By: Emily Horowitz, Participant from Temple Israel, York Beach, ME (NFTY-NE)
As I prepared for my 2nd summer at the Kutz Camp, I had expectations. I knew what I experienced last summer, how it made me feel and what I wanted to do again this summer. What I didn’t take into account was that I made a Major (no pun intended) change from my first summer to my second; during my second summer, I chose to participate in the Mitzvah Corps Major. Mitzvah Corps is a program within Kutz for participants who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. As a Mitzvah Corps Major, my role was essentially to be a friend to those participants. Once again, I went into the Mitzvah Corps program with expectations and once again, they proved to be off. It turned out that whether it was the other Kutz participants who acted as “mentors” in Mitzvah Corps, or the teens on the spectrum, during this summer in Mitzvah Corps, I made some of the best friends of my life.
What I learned this summer at Kutz and especially in the Mitzvah Corps major was that communication really is golden. Working with the teens on the spectrum, who, by definition, have communicational challenges, I realized how carelessly most of us communicate. Having to be careful about the words I chose, the things I chose to talk about and my body language when engaging the tzofim really proved to me how valuable confidence in communication can be. Some of the tzofim had specific challenges in connecting verbally, and with some individuals I learned it would be best to take charge and direct conversations while with others, simply being present and available to listen was enough. Being able to connect with a tzof was one of the most wonderful feelings and demonstrated to me how important it is to be able to adapt in order to communicate with anyone. I believe that this skill will be able to translate to most any situation, whether it’s in continued work with teens on the spectrum, in my NFTY region, my school or even my own home.
To future participants I say this: come with an open mind. We all go to a new place with expectations and assumptions – it’s human nature. However, the best thing that you can do for yourself is to come to Kutz with a spirit of openness and eagerness. You have so much to learn if you’re ready.