Boston Teen Changing Lives, Fighting for Inclusion
On March 18, 16 year-old Sierra Wiess of Boston visited ALEH’s Jerusalem facility during her high school’s special “Exploration Week.” While her classmates from Gann Academy traveled around the United States doing community service and integrating with other grades, Sierra decided to spend the week in Israel learning about the different cutting edge therapies available to disabled children. The trip was intended as a stepping stone and an inspirational fact-finding mission that would help her launch CHEETA (Children Helping Empower Each Other Through Art), her own special needs dance therapy program.
Accompanied by her mother, Debra, Sierra spent the morning learning about the ALEH facilities and the daily routine in ALEH Jerusalem. She toured the school, therapy rooms and classrooms, and learned about the importance of creativity to make breakthroughs in treatment for the cognitively and physically disabled. In ALEH’s art room, where ALEH residents were making items for the ALEH boutique during their vocational workshops, she observed how the art projects benefited each child in unique ways. For example, one child used a lever to stamp clay with different patterns to increase his physical strength, while another child painted with bright colors to stimulate his cognitive development. Sierra also had an opportunity to meet and interact with many of the ALEH Jerusalem residents and took part in fun sensory activities based around the theme of cleaning for Passover.
Inspired by the ideals of Tikkun Olam, Sierra hopes to launch CHEETA this summer at Camp Ramah and then bring it back to Boston in the fall. She first began developing her program after working at TIKVAH, Camp Ramah’s track for special needs kids, and volunteering at Gateway Boston, a Sunday school offering special education. She hopes to create a number of dance performances to raise money for arts programs focused on inclusion in the Boston area.
Sierra was deeply moved by her visit to ALEH Jerusalem and has made a commitment to support the cause while developing her own program. “There is a real mentality of inclusion here, and that’s how it should be – the kids shouldn’t feel like there is something they can’t participate in. I know that CHEETA will benefit greatly from my experience at ALEH.”
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