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Sunday, September 24, 2017

Shalva, an Israeli association for the care and inclusion of children with disabilities, had a number of extremely devoted volunteers from New Jersey this past year. These volunteers participated in the Shalva Ambassadors Program where they invested their time and energy helping at the Shalva National Center, which provides services to thousands of children annually. Ambassadors volunteered every week and were also responsible for recruiting new volunteers. Many of the ambassadors ran the Jerusalem Marathon for Shalva, threw parties for the Shalva children, had sleepovers with the children and got their hands dirty painting the recycling center and working in the therapeutic garden.

Local volunteers included Teaneck residents Hannah Rosen, Kayla Mandelbaum, Jan Goldsmith, Ayelet Papier, Gabi Lerner, Elior Holzer and Yitzi Rothschild; Englewood residents Adir Cohen, Gabi Weiss and Yakira Markovich; Fair Lawn resident Oren Oppenheim; West Orange residents Chevi Pittinsky and Binyamin Brickman; Edison residents Avi Margolin and Dani Berlin; East Brunswick resident Rebbeca Siegal; and Hillside resident Mendy Antelis.

The ambassador program impacted not only the children at the Shalva center, but the ambassadors themselves. Ayelet Papier loved her experience so much that she decided to return and do a year of Sherut Leumi there. Ambassador Jen Goldsmith said, “Volunteering at Shalva has been a transformative experience. The staff here gives me the opportunity to take part in everything that happens around here—including animal therapy, hydrotherapy and regular classroom interactions.”

Gabi Weiss added, “Whether helping out in the gan classrooms or dancing at the chagigah, my volunteer work never seemed like ‘work’ to me. My time at Shalva was never tedious and always filled my day with the excitement, energy and passion that runs through its halls on a daily basis.”

“The Shabbat I spent at the Shalva Center was one of the most meaningful Shabbatot I’ve had during my year in Israel,” noted Oren Oppenheim. “I came with a handful of my friends from [Yeshivat] Orayta, not knowing what to expect. But when I had the chance to meet the members of Shalva, I got to know a group filled with spirit, enthusiasm and verve for life.”

Mendy Antelis commented, “When I first walked into the original building of Shalva I was quite overwhelmed, I didn’t know a single soul, but I felt something special... Now I consider Shalva as part of my family.”

Shalva’s many activities—including drama, dance, sports and art—keep the children busy throughout the day. There is a Shalva band comprising children with musical talent, and a Shalva basketball team where they play against other youth teams and sometimes even share the court with professionals on nationally televised games. The center also boasts a virtual reality and technology room, which is intended to help the children develop and practice skills to prepare for real-world situations.

Volunteer Rebecca Siegel said, “Everyone in Shalva is unified with the common purpose of making a difference, but our differences are what give us a common purpose. Volunteering has really showed me the value of each and every person and what they bring to the world not just despite our differences, but because of them.”

Shalva is dedicated to providing transformative care for individuals with disabilities, empowering their families and promoting social inclusion. Non-denominational and free of charge, Shalva’s programs provide an all-encompassing range of services for hundreds of individuals from infancy to adulthood. Additionally, Shalva supports and enables families to raise their children with disabilities within the family framework. Through nearly three decades of award-winning programs, Shalva partners with government, academic and philanthropic institutions in advocacy efforts to create a more inclusive society.