On Jan. 21, 2018, New England Yachad and the Diller Teen Fellows collaborated on a fantastic event. The theme was a surprise party, and teens only knew that they were coming to an extravaganza created just for them. Over 40 teens with and without special needs attended, and everyone was surprised and thrilled!

The Diller Teen Fellows are a cohort of Boston-area high-schoolers passionate about community service, tikkun olam, and Israel. Five of these young leaders chose to work with Yachad as their Impact Project to culminate their time as a Diller Teen Fellow and give back to their community.

(Courtesy: New England Yachad)

For their project, Sara Gotbetter, Talia Barrett, Hana Stern, Hallie Popkin, and Itai Segev chose to design an inclusive program with Yachad that would be fun and bring together teens with and without disabilities.

The fellows wanted to make an inclusive event that teens would want to come to, with a broad appeal and a focus on fun; thus, the theme of a giant birthday party was chosen. The event was open to all high-schoolers in the area, including the rest of the Diller Teen Fellows and teens from the Yachad community.

“I felt drawn to the organization’s emphasis on inclusion within the Jewish community,” Talia Barrett, a junior at Needham High School, said. “The Diller Teen Fellows program gave me a Jewish community to become involved with, and I believe that it changed my life for the better. As a result of my positive experience with Diller, I wanted to expand my Jewish network, and Yachad offered me an opportunity to do so.”

Diller Teen Fellow Talia Barrett (left) and Maimonides student Shira Almekies set up for the party. (Courtesy: New England Yachad)

“We wanted to create an event and an energy of unexpected happiness that we feel when going to a birthday party,” Sara Gotbetter, a senior at Weston High School, explained. “Also, we thought a party with different stations would make the event more accessible to people with various levels of ability.”

The party room before guests arrived. (Courtesy: New England Yachad)

The party space was decorated with streamers, balloons, party hats, blowers, and a giant “Happy Birthday” sign painted by the fellows. The party stations were cupcake decorating, tie-dye T-shirt making, candy jar decorating, and a piñata. There were also party snacks and festive music playing.

Attendees were happily surprised to see the cheerful room and fun activities. For the high-school students, it was a welcomed study break.

Yachad staff member Ilana Kruger and participant Raffi.
Yachad staff member Ilana Kruger and participant Raffi. (Courtesy: New England Yachad)

Hallie Popkin, a senior at Needham High School, “loved spending the afternoon not only with my Diller fellows but with so many new faces of the teens from Yachad.”

“I was paired with one of the girls in Yachad and had such an amazing time watching her smile because of the program we were able to put on for her,” Hallie said.

Hana Stern, a senior at Thayer Academy, also felt the sense of community in the room. “It was really cool to meet so many people—it really did feel like we were at a birthday party for a bunch of close friends.”

Diller Fellow Hana Stern (right) and Yachad participant Yoki make t-shirts.
Diller Fellow Hana Stern (right) and Yachad participant Yoki make T-shirts. (Courtesy: New England Yachad)

The biggest surprise was the magic show, performed by magician Pete Jackson and his bunny assistant, Snowball. Kids were called onto the stage to help with the magic tricks and to meet the bunny.

Yachad participant Liza helps Magician Pete with a magic trick.
Yachad participant Liza helps magician Pete with a magic trick. (Courtesy: New England Yachad)

Itai Segev, a senior at Landmark High School, summed up the event: “Overall, it was a wonderful experience, and moving forward, I now understand how easy it is to make a difference in someone’s life. One small gesture can go a long way.”

Meeting Snowball the bunny after the magic show.
Meeting Snowball the bunny after the magic show. (Courtesy: New England Yachad)

Talia agreed. “The most special part of my experience was the fact that we were all in one room having fun together,” she said. “Individual differences did not matter, and the environment was extremely warm and welcoming.”

That is the core belief and value of Yachad: that everyone belongs. The Diller Teen Fellows were able to create an event where former strangers with varying needs were able to come together and have a blast.

You can see some of the fun we had in our event video below!

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