The summer after my senior year of high school, I was a JCC camp counselor.
Built into all of the crafts and games you’d expect at a day camp, the JCC had an inclusion program for campers with a range of abilities. At the time, I didn’t really understand how inclusion programs worked. Like my kindergarten campers, I just experienced first hand what it looked and felt like to adapt a system to people, instead of expecting people to change to be a part of — or remain apart from — our normally rigid systems.
I have often given credit to the Jewish community (and my parents) for my professional path in the nonprofit sector, by providing experiences that helped me develop leadership skills. Beyond those explicit lessons — like co-leading a service program that Temple Kol Ami hosted, as part of a regional youth group weekend — was the inclusive nature of the community. For an awkward teenager who saw herself as an outsider (other than marching band), for campers with developmental disabilities, for families recently arrived from the Soviet Union.
It is clear to me now, even from a few thousand miles away, that community isn’t defined by acts of charity or tolerance, but by treating anyone’s differences as sources of strength for everyone.
I work for an organization called Support for Families of Children with Disabilities in San Francisco. Although I currently do not have a disability (nor am I a parent), I have been welcomed into the disability community in a way that feels very familiar.
I have worked to reciprocate by providing support, helping to educate others who are further from the community, providing allyship, and most importantly joining others in celebration during times of joy, sadness during struggles and hardships, and strength throughout. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from the families that I meet and work with to truly understand the beauty of the diverse world we live in.
At SFCD, we help families navigate the overly complicated systems within education, healthcare, and support services that come with having a child with a disability. We provide peer-to-peer support by employing parents who have children with disabilities.
Planning events for our families — a skill I developed in Michigan through my work with youth groups, Summer in the City, AmeriCorps and Green Living Science — has helped me get to know them and the Bay Area. Prior to shelter in place, this would mean partnering with the zoo and museums around San Francisco to provide free tickets and host Family Access days for our community; movie nights at our office; taking over the ice skating rink to allow wheelchairs on the ice while handing out hot chocolate (off ice).
The pandemic has been particularly devastating for individuals and families who already face barriers to participating in everyday life. Although our in-person events have been on hiatus, one virtual activity has become a cherished ritual. We host a drumming night for all ages and all abilities every Wednesday. As you can imagine, the tempos and volumes vary substantially. But, like the community I experienced growing up, it draws strength not from everyone marching to the same beat or deferring to a single leader, but by embracing the value of every individual and trusting that we can create a powerful and enduring rhythm together.
To learn more about Support for Families or join or weekly drumming night visit supportforfamilies.org.