ALEH’S VOLUNTEER COORDINATOR
Simon Weststeijn is the first member of ALEH’s administrative staff to arrive every morning and one of the last to leave every evening. As the point person for all international volunteers for ALEH, Israel’s foremost network of state-of-the-art facilities for children with severe intellectual and developmental disabilities, Simon handles all of the logistics prior to the volunteers’ arrival in Israel and takes care of their every need throughout their volunteering experience. Though he only took on this crucial role at the beginning of 2016, Simon has already transformed ALEH’s international volunteering program, successfully placing 50 volunteers from around the world.
The most remarkable thing about this savvy and passionate volunteer coordinator is that he, too, is a volunteer.
A native of the Netherlands, Simon is an agricultural engineer by profession. When he and his wife, Michele, were younger, they traveled from country to country to work on agricultural development projects. But when it came time to raise a family, they rooted themselves in Holland to ensure that their children would receive a quality education. During that time, Michele learned about a volunteer project that assisted Dutch-speaking Holocaust survivors in Israel. Though she felt strongly about the cause, she couldn’t volunteer her services with school-aged children at home.
Many years later, after their children had grown up and moved out of the house, Michele convinced Simon that it was time to relocate to Israel so that she could assist with the cause.
After arriving in Israel, Simon worked for an organization that managed relief projects. In this capacity, he met Shraga Evers, ALEH’s Director of Development for Europe, who is also originally from Holland. Shraga gave Simon a tour of ALEH’s residential facility in Jerusalem, and he immediately fell in love with the cause. Simon was very impressed by the quality of care provided to the ALEH residents and the devotion displayed by the hardworking ALEH staff members.
Soon thereafter, Simon’s organization received a request to place a group of 10 American volunteers, and Simon arranged for them to work at ALEH’s facilities in Jerusalem and the Negev. He also decided to volunteer along with them. Simon was so moved by the experience that he decided to work for ALEH in a capacity that would allow others to partake in ALEH’s inspiring volunteer program as well.
Thus far, Simon has worked with volunteers from Germany, Holland, Italy, Poland, Mexico, Peru, England, Canada and the U.S. He is continually impressed by the volunteers’ generosity and dedication to ALEH’s children. “It can be daunting work, and usually the volunteers will need a couple of days to acclimate. But after that, they provide an amazing amount of love to the residents, with some even returning for a second volunteering stint,” says Simon. “In this post-modern, self-centered age, it gives me hope for the future of humanity.”
Simon thoroughly enjoys his work at ALEH and plans to retain his position for at least one more year. Though he repeatedly mentions his amazement at the devotion of the ALEH staff and volunteers, his colleagues in the administrative office frequently point out the irony in his statements and thank Simon for his extreme selflessness and undying dedication to the cause. Simon Weststeijn isn’t just a volunteer – he is a role model worth emulating.
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