Volunteering for a Change

Volunteering for a Change

 
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Israel's Ministry of Education recently made a strategic decision to include volunteerism as a compulsory component for high school matriculation.  The most recent survey in 2010 found that approximately half of all youth are volunteering countless hours in after-school learning centers, senior citizen centers, community centers and other locations (Zemach). These experiences teach volunteers about solidarity, mutual respect, and belonging. Volunteer activities contribute significantly to students' quality of life and the quality of life of those around them.

8% of all Israeli children, including 64,700 high school students, have disabilities that affect daily functioning (Brookdale, 2014). Regrettably, high school students with special needs are harder to place in volunteer opportunities.  Those responsible for youth volunteer placements do not receive adequate training to find assignments for these youth, which diminishes the chance that they will meaningfully volunteer on a regular basis. Thus, these youth may find themselves isolated from their peers and communities, with people perceiving them in terms of their disabilities rather than their contributions to society. This marginalization can lead to negative self-image and low self-regard.

The Volunteer for a Change program hopes to reverse this reality by using JDC's experience with volunteer programing. First, it will create a supportive framework that enables high school students with special needs to engage in meaningful volunteer work side by side with their non-disabled peers.  In the process, the program will enable these youth to connect more deeply with their communities and to enhance their self-image, thereby improving their quality of life. The program will also reduce the stigma associated with individuals with special needs.

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