February is Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month. As part of our Federation’s commitment to inclusion, every week this month we will feature a blog written by either a member of our community, his or her parent, or a volunteer or professional working with one of our partner organizations that serves individuals with special needs.
We recently interviewed Harlee, a young adult participant of The Miracle Project for the past eight years. The Miracle Project is a Federation partner that provides individuals with autism and other disabilities the tools to build communication, social skills, community, and greater self-esteem through inclusive theater and expressive arts programs. Here is Harlee’s inspirational story.
In addition to writing and performing in shows, Harlee works as a teacher’s assistant in an elementary school. She is very busy, but not too busy for her to visit her two favorite places, American Girl and — of course — The Magic Kingdom, where she is a regular.
What is something you wish you could change about the perception of individuals with special needs?
To have people see what we’re like and try to understand us. Sometimes we get bullied for having a disability. We should be treated with respect. There’s nothing weird about it. We’re no different than you are — everyone has their own way of talking and their own way of dreaming and dancing.
What inspires you about our Jewish community?
For me, it inspires me not to let fear control me, and it also inspires me to write songs that come from my heart. I also love sharing my voice and inspiration with everyone.
What has been one of your favorite moments or experiences you have had this year with The Miracle Project?
I didn’t know how to handle my feelings about being bullied. I got the courage to tell The Miracle Project class about how I was being bullied and everyone agreed that they have also been bullied, even staff and volunteers. I was shocked and surprised. They agreed to do a show about bullying that we can show schools and other people who have been bullied or who might be bullied not to let the bullies get to you or put you down. It made me feel good that people understood where I was coming from. The staff was really understanding of the way that I felt.
Which Jewish holiday is your favorite?
Chanukah is my favorite Jewish holiday because my family and I always celebrate it, and our family and friends come join us. It’s really fun to see the smiles of my nieces and nephews. Their smiles always make my day. I also get to teach my friends who don’t celebrate the story and songs.