As a brand-new fellow on the Jewish Teen Initiative (JTI) team, meeting new people and starting a new experience brought upon many nervous and apprehensive feelings. When I arrived at my first meeting, I was welcomed into a room filled with many kind and warm faces. I learned that these people shared many similarities and backgrounds. In monthly trainings, small connections would be made through conversations and interactions that immediately made me feel more comfortable.

Right before Thanksgiving, I went to my first JTI event, Souper Sunday. The bonds that I have made with my peers that day felt surprisingly easy. In training sessions when we were put into groups to talk and collaborate, I felt immersed in enjoyable and authentic conversations with people that I had just met but had felt like I had known before. As I reflected on this event, I realized that the feeling of being welcomed by smiling and happy faces right off the bat into conversations, trainings and events is something that is so easy to do. I felt a feeling of acceptance and inclusion. This made me understand what JTI is all about.

Into the new year, this feeling of inclusion has made me recognize that it really is that simple to help make our community more connected. This year, my goal is to focus on the easy things that will make people always feel included. The day-to-day smiles, “hellos” and invites into conversations are things that I want to spread in my day-to-day life. So far, I have included my work as a Peer Inclusion Fellow when I participated in weekly Special Olympics sessions after school this fall and the Best Buddies club at my school last year. Not only do I practice being an inclusion fellow when I am specifically working with and interacting with people with disabilities, but also when I’m in school, at practice or in a general area surrounded by people.

No matter where I am or who I’m interacting with, my desire is to share the same feeling of inclusion that I have experienced with others. I have already learned so much about myself, my new friends and the Jewish community while being a Peer Inclusion Fellow.

Sophie Backer is a sophomore at Weston High School. She’s a part of the swim and lacrosse teams and is involved in Best Buddies, Student Council and the community service club. She’s a member of Congregation Or Atid in Wayland and spends her summers at Camp Robindel in New Hampshire. She also loves to travel and is currently spending the semester abroad with Alexander Muss High School in Israel.

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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