by Michelle Friedman, Chair of the Board
Recently I bumped into someone I haven’t seen in years since we both sat on the board of a local agency. We, of course, asked each other about our families and what we were both up to. When I told her I was now serving as the Board Chair of Keshet, her response was: “Why are you still doing that at your stage of life?”
I made the conscious decision not to respond to the “your stage of life” comment, first because it was a few days before my 64th birthday and I am not sure what stage of life that puts me in. (Maybe the out to pasture stage?!) And second, I didn’t know there was an expiration date on wanting to be involved in work that makes a difference.
It’s true. I’ve been serving in volunteer leadership roles in the Jewish community for over 30 years. It is also true that while I have always been connected to the other institutions on whose boards I have served over the last 30 plus years, I can honestly say that I have never felt such a deep connection and passion for any other organization the way I do about Keshet. For me, Keshet represents the intersection of my identity as a woman who is blind, my identity as a Jewish woman, and my deep desire to give back and make a difference.
I didn’t share all that with my friend. I was still stuck on the “at your stage of life” line, but what I did tell her was that I believe in Keshet’s mission; it speaks to the core of who I am and the change I want to see in the world.
I also told her that Keshet matters; Keshet influences assumptions, impacts lives, and transforms communities, and that is what I have been working towards as a disabled woman for 40 years.
When our Keshet preschoolers, elementary school and high school students are in the classroom with their non-disabled peers; when our campers go to day camp and overnight camp like any other camper; when our GADOL team members go to work or volunteer in the community; and when our My Life residents live, work and play in the community; they are influencing assumptions, misconceptions and stigmas about people with disabilities. The more they are engaged in the community, the more they are breaking down some of the barriers to accessibility and belonging.
Keshet impacts lives, the lives of our participants, their families and their non-disabled peers. Keshet participants are given skills, opportunities and the support to move into every next phase of their life and live purposeful, meaningful lives within the greater community. Keshet also impacts the lives of all their non-disabled peers. The students, campers, counselors, buddies in our sports programs will have a long term, lasting and profound impact in the world. These students, campers, and buddies will one day become the special education teachers, lawyers, doctors, politicians and employers and will have very different attitudes about disability. Inclusion will just be a spontaneous, natural response.
And, Keshet transforms communities. When we influence assumptions and change mindsets about disability, we create a different narrative. When we understand and believe in the value of inclusion, we break down attitudinal and physical barriers, creating opportunities for belonging. Keshet works towards creating communities where people with disabilities aren’t just invited to participate; rather they are welcomed and expected.
Keshet influences, Keshet impacts and Keshet transforms communities. That is why this organization matters and that is why even at this stage of my life, I am honored and proud to serve as the Board Chair of Keshet.