There’s no better feeling as a coach than watching your player score a goal as her teammates cheer and her parents proudly applaud on the sidelines. She runs up to you, beaming, her arms wide, as she welcomes your enthusiastic hug. Coaching for the Rovers soccer program, I have helped many children with special needs not only improve their soccer-playing abilities but also grow as people, gaining independence and confidence. Having the ability to contribute to my players’ happiness, self-esteem and personal growth is the ultimate reward and the reason Rovers has had such a positive impact on me as a person.

One aspect of being a coach has remained consistent across all of the players I have mentored over the past seven years: Every child has shown me the power of perseverance. During my first practice, the player I was coaching could not even manage to kick the ball into an empty net. I was worried she would not return the following week as her struggles were so great. I was happily surprised when I saw her face the next Sunday, not a sign of discouragement in her eyes. Each week, she failed to score, but she always returned with a bright smile. I discovered that the simple act of being a consistent presence in people’s lives is the most powerful element of being a dedicated volunteer.

After a few years of working with Rovers, I decided I wanted more. I wanted to be involved in another way. And JTI was the answer. Last year, I loved working as an inclusion fellow among my peers to find creative ways to ensure inclusion within our community. I had all the resources I needed: old and new friends, brilliant ideas, helpful mentors and countless Jewish events to use as the foundation of our inclusion work. Yet again, I wanted more. So I applied for the position again this year and took on a new role. Now, I am an inclusion mentor, working as a resource to the new fellows and acting as a valuable guide whenever necessary. And this year has been the best one yet! I love working with the other fellows and cannot wait to see what the rest of the year brings.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to have worked with JTI for the past two years! I look back with pride and happiness on the impact of my commitment to JTI and look forward to new opportunities to volunteer as a college student next year.

Anna Levenberg is a senior at Swampscott High School. She’s involved in the I Am That Girl club, Peer Leaders Club, International Relations Club, student council, Rovers Special Olympics Soccer and her synagogue’s teen choir, the Chai Notes. Anna also enjoys playing on her school’s volleyball, indoor track and sailing teams. She’s a member of Congregation Shirat Hayam and attends Camp Tel Noar.

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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