Yachad announced its new Jewish Communal Leaders Fellowship (YJCLF) initiative has selected three outstanding recent college graduates to serve as Fellows for the 2014-2015 programmatic year. They are Naomi Gofine from Toronto, graduate of Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women; Robert Grad from Livingston, New Jersey, graduate of Yeshiva University’s Yeshiva College; and Stephanie Weprin from Holliswood, New York, graduate of City University of New York’s Queens College. The Fellows were chosen from 38 applicants from all over North America.
The program will enable the Fellows to learn, grow and contribute to Yachad and its role as a dynamic human rights organization promoting disability Inclusion. The fellowship will be supervised by Eli Hagler, Associate Director of Yachad, and Deborah Berman, LCSW, Director of Social Work at Yachad.
Yachad, the flagship program of the Orthodox Union’s National Jewish Council for Disabilities (NJCD), provides unique social, educational and recreational programs for individuals with learning, developmental and physical disabilities with the goal of their inclusion in the total life of the Jewish community.
The Fellows will function as full members of Yachad’s staff, working out of its national headquarters in Lower Manhattan and will be assigned a primary mentor — a staff member under whose tutelage and guidance they will directly carry out their diverse range of duties within the agency. Additional mentors will provide integrated training and experiential opportunities in other areas as needed. Together, the mentoring team will offer opportunities for the Fellow to acquire proficiency in disability culture and Jewish organizational leadership. Each Fellow, with supervisory support, will be responsible to begin or continue a special project, or to research a chosen topic of interest.
Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman, International Director of Yachad, explained, “Yachad has been at the forefront of educating and facilitating today’s youth to become tomorrow’s leaders, ensuring that all individuals are included in the Jewish community. There is no question that Yachad has come a long way in educating the community about the abilities of our members, but there is still a long way to go. We hope that the Yachad Fellows will quickly become an integral part of the Yachad team going into the 2014-2015 programmatic year. We are hopeful that our three Fellows will go on to successful careers and will always remember their time at Yachad as an important step in their professional advancement and development.”
Naomi Gofine, a Toronto native who majored in political science at Stern College and intends to attend law school, recounted how her experience serving as captain of Stern College’s NCAA Division III basketball team had given her the necessary leadership skills for fostering Yachad’s mission. “Inclusion extended beyond simply being on the basketball team; it meant cultivating a feeling of belonging, and ensuring that each member of the team felt like her contribution mattered,” she said. “As a YJCLF Fellow, I will incorporate these lessons to work as part of a team creating an atmosphere of inclusion, in which individuals feel the importance and value of their presence and contribution.”
Robert Grad, who received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Yeshiva University and plans on attending medical school after the Fellowship, offered his philosophy on inclusion. “I have a vision in which individuals with special needs aren’t labeled and categorized as ‘disabled,’” he explained. “I believe that it diminishes their self-worth, creates emotional stress and a separation from society. I believe working as a YJCLF Fellow will allow me to make this vision a reality. It will give me the opportunity to continue to develop as a leader for social change and will allow me to continue living my dream of improving the lives of those with various challenges.”
Stephanie Weprin, a Queens College psychology major who plans on becoming a physician’s assistant, dates her experience with Yachad to her formative years in the Yeshivah of Flatbush and serving as a Yachad counselor in Camps Morasha and Nesher. “I feel very honored to have been chosen to be a part of the first-ever YJCLF Fellowship,” she declared. “It is a great opportunity for me to work with an organization that I feel very passionate about. I plan to use my role as a Fellow to help Yachad continue the amazing work it does to help the special needs community. I believe that this position will serve as a stepping stone to my future in healthcare by allowing me to interact with so many people, especially a group that I feel so strongly about. Yachad is an organization like no other and I’m extremely excited to be a part of the team.”