New England Yachad is dedicated to supporting members of our community with special needs by providing friendship, social programming, self-advocacy groups, and a family support network. Every day we work hard to create inclusive spaces for everyone in our community. This year, that dedication has spurred us to create a small New England team, with the goal of joining Team Yachad at the Miami Marathon on Jan. 28, 2018.

We believe that everyone belongs. Reflecting this, our marathon team consists of two staff members, two peer participants, a high school volunteer, and a parent of two of our members. Most of us are first-time runners, but that won’t stop us. We may be small in number, but we all believe strongly in Yachad’s mission and the importance of inclusion.

Each of us have our reasons for running. Alessandra Rigamonti, our Joel Daner Fellow and program specialist, is running in honor of her brother, Luigi, a Yachad Baltimore participant.

Luigi was born premature at 26 weeks. Now 31 years later, many everyday tasks remain challenging for him because he is blind, developmentally delayed, and autistic. Anyone who knows Luigi knows him as a classical music-obsessed, fun-loving, caring, hilarious, and bear-hugging guy who is always down for a good time. Unfortunately, however, Luigi (and other adults with disabilities like him) are often lonely. This is because for the special needs community, there are often not many opportunities (particularly as individuals with disabilities age) for meaningful social or community engagement where individuals can go have a good time and make new friends. Fortunately, there are some organizations that are working to fill this void. Yachad is one of them.

“Yachad has played an important role in my life for as long as I can remember,” Alessandra says. “As a little kid, I would go with Luigi to play sports on Sundays at a Yachad program in Baltimore. It never crossed my mind that this program was different than a typical sports league.”

Tara Gordon, a longtime Yachad volunteer and event staff member, works with girls with trauma history. She believes that all girls can succeed in life in a way that’s right for them, despite their pasts. Similarly, with Yachad, we strive to ensure that everyone is included in all aspects of Jewish life—religious, community, vocational, social—regardless of disability. Tara’s biggest passions include helping others to have access to the same life experiences as everyone else, no matter what setbacks may come their way. At Yachad, people of all ages and backgrounds come together to celebrate our Judaism in an accessible and inclusive way.

This will be Tara’s second time at the Miami Marathon, but it wasn’t an easy road to get to where she is today. Tara joined the track team in seventh grade. She was scared of long distances and hills until she joined the cross country team in ninth grade.

“I was the slowest runner on the team throughout the entirety of high school. I decided I wanted to do a half-marathon before the end of freshman year,” Tara says. “Then injuries and illness followed me through the end of college. I signed up for the Miami Half Marathon with Team Yachad in 2017. Then I sprained my ankle a few day after registering.”

Despite this, Tara trained for her first half-marathon and crossed the finish line in Miami that January, with the rest of Team Yachad cheering her on.

I myself am joining the team because Yachad is a huge part of my daily life. As the Greater Boston and youth engagement coordinator, I meet so many amazing people every day. I am running this marathon as my way of giving back to the Yachad community that has already given me so much.

This month marks 10 years since my appendix burst. I underwent emergency surgery, spent over a month in the hospital, dealt with sepsis, a collapsed lung, turned 14, and missed several months of eighth grade.

I was told by one of the doctors that had the rupture not been caught, I would not have survived. That’s a pretty big statement for a little, scared, sick 14-year-old to hear. I don’t think I understood its full meaning then.

Now, as I approach my 24th birthday, I can really appreciate its impact. Overall I am now healthy. My goal is to complete the half-marathon. I’ll probably be walking most of the way, but for me this is about raising money for our inclusive programming and celebrating that I am alive and healthy enough to even attempt a half-marathon.

Yachad provides fun activities for those with special needs and a support system for the entire family in a world where disabilities are not yet fully accepted or often ignored. Unlike many other organizations, Yachad provides programming for individuals of all ages and strives to allow members to live their fullest life within the community.

We are raising money for our run to help shape a world where having a disability is no longer seen as a detriment to one’s value and where someone with a disability can have a full social life full of engaging activities.

If you would like to donate to our team, please click here.

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