(Courtesy of Shalva) “Wherever you are in the Shalva building, everyone is always happy and it’s always a warm, exciting environment,” explains Lindsay Haimm, a recent participant of Shalva’s Ambassador Program along with Julia Reichel, Jordana Hornblass, Talya Gellis and Raquel Kylinger. Most students who come to Israel to study in yeshiva, seminary or other gap-year programs are interested in learning and enjoying their Israel experience; they’re not looking for additional responsibilities. And there are always a few unique individuals seeking more, for a way to give of themselves and make their time in Israel even more meaningful. Volunteering at Shalva, the largest and most advanced center for inclusion and disability care in Israel, offers the kind of experience that makes giving so rewarding. Rain or shine, once a week for the entire year, these dedicated volunteers leave the comfort of their English-speaking environments to dedicate their time to making a difference in the lives of children with disabilities. But what they don’t expect is how much the experience will make a difference in their own lives.
Since 2016, Shalva’s new volunteer Ambassadors Program has become a critical component of the organization. More than 130 young adults from abroad volunteer through the program, offering backbone support to Shalva’s leading programs and providing much needed, personal attention to Shalva’s children. Their genuine care, friendship and positivity are an immense contribution to the organization. Over the course of one year, they become integral members of the Shalva family and form close bonds with Shalva’s children and staff. While it’s not always easy, these dedicated volunteers extend themselves much beyond their comfort zones to connect with children with various disabilities and to overcome the language barrier. But as most volunteers will tell you, the rewards far outweigh the challenges. Volunteers are often surprised to discover how much they look forward to spending time with Shalva’s special children. “Shalva gives these children the hope and care that they need and I feel so much pride and joy being part of that,” shared Jordana Hornblass from Englewood, New Jersey.
“In addition to the direct impact these volunteers make in the lives of Shalva’s children, the Ambassadors Program offers students an opportunity to become influential leaders of their respective student bodies,” explains Sammy Schechter, Shalva’s overseas volunteer coordinator. Shalva ambassadors impact their social circles by spreading awareness of Shalva’s core message of inclusion and the importance of cultivating love, hope and human dignity, and by engaging their peers in fundraising efforts for Shalva’s advocacy initiatives. Participating ambassadors recruit their friends to run with Team Shalva in the annual Jerusalem Marathon and to get involved with other seasonal events throughout the year.
For each of our volunteers, becoming a Shalva ambassador was a life-changing experience that has profoundly impacted their perspective on life and helped them realize their personal responsibility as leaders in the Jewish community. Haimm commented, “Being a part of the Shalva family was an unforgettable experience and I know that it will always stay with me.”
For more information visit: www.shalva.org. Inspiring Hope. Changing Lives.