Shutaf Inclusive Young Leadership Program for Teens and Young Adults with Disabilities
Shutaf’s inclusive Young Leadership Program offers over 60 teens and young adults, with and without disabilities, the opportunity to begin their preparation for successful adulthood within the greater community. Shutaf participants, ages 14-25, are mentored and supported as they build skills and self-confidence in an accepting and encouraging social environment. The program meets three times a week and includes vocational training and work opportunities at Shutaf camps, as well as groundbreaking units in drug/alcohol awareness and safety, sex education/dating and gender issues, and personal coaching/self-development. In addition, unique teen and young adult tracks as well as a Junior Counselor track are offered at Shutaf’s Passover and Summer camps.
Shutaf’s unique, reverse-inclusion model brings together young people with varied developmental challenges (75-80%) and includes a smaller group (20-25%) of their peers without disabilities. This inclusion ethos, together with a professional approach to staff training and mentoring ensures a welcoming and well-planned program. A high staff-participant ratio (1:4) allows for extra assistance and attention based on individual need.
What is the mission and purpose of this program?
Young people with disabilities are lonelier than their peers without disabilities, a trend that often develops and intensifies in their teens. They struggle with self-worth and are under-prepared for the often unfriendly world that awaits them in adulthood. Shutaf activities offer young people with disabilities a place to prepare for successful futures while developing skills and social knowledge in a supportive environment of acceptance and welcome.
Shutaf’s Inclusive Young Leadership Program for Teens and Young Adults with and without disabilities, offers a year-round, inclusive social environment for exploring and developing independent living skills. Activities include vocational training, community volunteering, skills for independent living, and specialty educational units.
Shutaf's Inclusive Young Leadership Program for Teens and Young Adults with Disabilities has both a weekly and a camp component.
Weekly Program: A range of activities - three times weekly - are offered for teens and young adults, with and without disabilities, ages 14-25. Weeknight #1, focuses on social and independent living skills via a community dinner, planned and prepared by Shutaf participants. Weeknight #2, incorporates Junior Counselor vocational training as well as a community environmental project, focusing on self-development, social skills, presentation, teamwork, problem solving, etc. using video therapy elements. Weeknight #3, offers diverse activities such as sports, drama, carpentry and life skills such as a handyman course, riding the bus, food shopping, going to a restaurant, cultural activities and other projects suited to participant needs.
Specialty Education Units: An integral part of the Young Leadership Program is unique educational units with a focus on skills-for-living, including groundbreaking programs about drug/alcohol awareness and safety, and sex education/dating and gender issues. Each 4-session unit is preceded by an informational session for parents as well as staff training sessions that prepare them to assist the professional facilitator. These special units are evaluated for success and adjusted as needed.
Junior Counselor Training and Vocational Experience: Part of the weekly program, the Junior Counselor vocational training track is a unique, inclusive-work-opportunity for teens and young adults with disabilities who are ready to train, work, and experience the challenges of paid employment. Young people learn self-empowerment, group dynamics and behavior management in a mentored and accepting work environment. During camp sessions participants (ages 16-21), with and without disabilities, are hired to work as paid junior counselors and specialty assistants, a first for many Shutaf young people with disabilities.
Camp Shutaf for Teens and Young Adults: During Shutaf camps - Passover (1 week), August (3 weeks) teens and young adults ages 14-25 enjoy activities and group experiences. Exploring Jerusalem and using public transportation (a necessary life skill), they enjoy activities including visiting historical sites, sports and recreation, volunteering at local community projects, and arts enrichment.
Studies show that people with disabilities are lonely, a problem that begins with the transition from the teen years into young adulthood. Young people with disabilities often lack the skills to develop social connections and friendships with their peers, with or without disabilities. They are also easily influenced, an at-risk population in danger in everyday social settings - on the street, in the workplace and in the greater community - which can lead to abuse, and a loss of personal safety.
Many young people with disabilities are also leery of being classified or grouped with others who have disabilities, especially those who have challenges different than their own. As they reach adulthood, coming to terms with their specific disability issues and realizing their self-worth is a difficult task, one that requires specialized assistance and professional facilitation. Building self-identity and self-esteem is essential in order to help young people with disabilities move to the next challenge, planning for adulthood and personal success, regardless of complexity of individual need.
Shutaf participants with disabilities come from varied socioeconomic, religious, and educational backgrounds, from Greater Jerusalem including communities in the periphery such as Beit Shemesh, Gush Etzion and Ma’aleh Adumim. A good percentage of participant families cope with complex family issues including chronic unemployment, illness, poverty and multiple disabilities within the family unit. Family dysfunction along with limited emotional and financial resources can directly impact a young person’s chances of maximizing their potential in adulthood - from continuing education opportunities to employment to independent living and social success.
As our first cohort of young adult participants have left Shutaf we’ve noted with deep satisfaction that their initial steps into adulthood have been made more successful because of Shutaf. One participant who’s about to enter Israel’s army in a specialized program said, “Shutaf helped me believe in myself - I know the my army experience will be successful because of that.” Another participant, whose parents often struggled to see him as independent and able, made a great transition into a work/living situation because Shutaf helped him believe in his abilities. A year later, he and his parents have seen the results of Shutaf’s open and welcoming environment which waits for each participant to join in, have his/her say, and be respected for their contribution to the Shutaf community.
We’ve been proud to present our work and methodologies at conferences, synagogues, community centers, businesses, and for students at all levels of studies, as well as to staff and participants of gap year programs, youth movements, and inclusion professionals at Federations and other Jewish agencies. In 2016, in partnership with the Jewish Agency and the Foundation for Jewish Camp - Shutaf offered inclusion workshops to more than 1300 Israeli Shlichim being trained for work at North American Jewish camps. The project will be developed further in 2017.
As an organization, now in its 10th year, we’ve become one of the addresses, within the world of disability services, for inclusive, informal education. We’re seen as smart and capable, with a working method and outlook on inclusion that is different - we’ve been ahead of the inclusion curve in informal education since Shutaf was founded in 2007. Only now, are government agencies and municipalities beginning to reckon with how much they need to change internally and externally in their outlook in order to move their official programs forward. We’re already there.
How do you measure the success of your program?
The evaluation plan will examine Shutaf’s Inclusive Young Leadership Program, focusing on Shutaf’s reverse inclusion model, program goals, structure and activities, physical, social and psychological outcomes of participants, with and without disabilities. Data will be gathered through personal interviews with participants, with and without disabilities, as well as parents and staff questionnaires.
Shutaf’s goals are many, including learning more about participants’ experiences – are they learning new social, vocational and independent living skills, interacting in new ways with peers, following instructions appropriately - as well as understanding and appreciating parental expectations and whether they feel the program contributes to their participants’ development and future employment opportunities.
Shutaf Program Director and Young Leadership Program Coordinator will be closely involved in every aspect of the evaluation process, including gathering information from participants, parents/guardians and staff; personal observations and weekly reports; final assessments in cooperation with the evaluation consultant.