This is the first article of our 2019 series for Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month. Katie Penn reflects on her experiences as a Keshet volunteer and the role incllusion has played in her life.
Keshet has been a part of my life since I was in sixth grade and now I am a senior in high school. It all started as my Bat Mitzvah project, but it has turned out to be something so much more. In these past couple years, I have volunteered and have even gotten the wonderful opportunity to work for Keshet. I have participated in most of the buddy programs (baseball, basketball, bowling), Special Olympics, Sunday School and Keshet School Day Off Trips. This summer, I decided to take on the role as a Keshet Counselor at ‘Z’ Frank Apachi Day Camp and I am so happy with my decision. From my experiences at Keshet, I have found my passion. On any given day, I would choose to be with Keshet over being with my school friends. It is sincerely the most rewarding experience that anyone could have.
Over the past four summers as a CIT and a counselor at Apachi, I was able to see many campers with disabilities being included in their groups because of Keshet support. It was super amazing to see Keshet inclusion come into play in the summer and not just at school and during recreational programs. Inclusion at camp is important because everyone wants to feel included, have friends and be a part of the group just like everyone else. Campers with disabilities get to participate in everything their typically developing peers get to experience and every group member is proud of one another. Even the campers without disabilities soon learn that everybody is all the same. Seeing this inclusion makes me even more ecstatic to be a part of the summer team for 2019!
For a couple years now, I have been with the same buddy for Buddy Baseball and we have established an incredible relationship that I would not trade for the world. Seeing him participate in the baseball game, getting to run, hit the ball, play in the field and catch the ball puts the biggest smile on my face and his every single game.
I have also been a volunteer coach for the Keshet Special Olympics team. My first year going to the Special Olympics games was unbelievable and it gets better and better each year I get to attend the area games. This past year my buddy got to hold the torch during the opening ceremonies and it was one the most amazing things I have seen in my life.
Waking up just about every Sunday morning at 8:30 a.m. is not so bad, at least for me because I get to go to Sunday School and hang out the most wonderful people. It is definitely better and way more fun than the Sunday School I went to growing up.
My experience with Jewish children, teens, and adults with disabilities is like no other experience. I have enjoyed meeting so many new people. It has also helped me to decide what I would like to do when I am older. I decided at age thirteen that I wanted to be a Special Education teacher. I do not think many people can say they found their passion at a young age.
Keshet changes lives.
Keshet is inclusive.
Keshet is my home away from home.
Keshet is one big happy family.