I was very hesitant at first to sign up as a JTI Peer Inclusion Fellow, but looking back, this was one of my best decisions of 2019. Peer inclusion has given me so much more than I imagined. I signed up because I knew that both Judaism and the special needs community held great importance in my heart. I went through the interview process and was definitely out of my comfort zone; little did I know this whole program would put me out of my comfort zone.

The first experience I had as a fellow was the JTI Peer Leadership Fellows National Training Seminar in Baltimore, which was so much fun. I made so many friends from across the country who all shared similar goals with me! It was one of the most accepting and open places I have ever been. With that experience under my belt, I took my new knowledge to the BBYO boat cruise, which I helped make as comfortable for everyone, no matter their ability. That event put me out of my comfort zone as I had to interact with people I would not have normally talked to.

From there, opportunities and events came rolling in. I’ve attended many training sessions, which prepared me to attend the MLK Day of Service. The training sessions and MLK Day of Service both prepared me for the most challenging peer inclusion task that I have taken on so far. It all started when a couple of other Peer Inclusion Fellows and I were asked to create a presentation on inclusion to present at a BBYO convention. This was an intimidating task; however, one I was prepared and ready to take on. We worked for weeks on this presentation, making it fun and comprehensive. Finally, the day came: The other fellows and I went to the convention and presented our work. We were all nervous, but we knew it had paid off when the BBYO teens told us how much they had enjoyed it and how much they had learned. It was so rewarding to have connected with other Jewish teens educating them on something that means so much to me.

If you had asked me what peer inclusion was when I applied, I don’t think I could’ve told you, and I think that’s part of the fun. I have been given so many opportunities by this program, and I’m so thankful to the hard-working staff and the Jewish community as a whole for giving me these opportunities. I can’t put into words how thankful I am and how much I would recommend this organization to other people.

Rachel Fredman is a junior at Westborough High School and is involved in Best Buddies and Rangers for a Cure, and enjoys playing field hockey for the school. She is a member of the Beth Tikvah and Camp Young Judaea communities and spent five weeks in Israel this past summer.

This post is part of a series of reflections and insights from the JTI Peer Inclusion Fellows. Part of Jewish Teen Initiative of Greater Boston’s signature Peer Leadership Fellows program, Peer Inclusion Fellows are helping to make our community more connected and inclusive for all Jewish teens.

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