Although participants in the Mitzvah Corps Major are referred to as mentors, the true focus of the time we spend together is on how to interact on a peer level with fellow teens who have Autism Spectrum Disorders. In addition to building a foundational knowledge about Autism Spectrum Disorders, the fabulous group of fifteen teens in this major are also learn how to turn the hands-on experience they are having this summer into an opportunity to promote social justice through advocacy.
As for what else we do and what it means to the participants? Well what better way to find out than to ask some of them to describe, in their own words, what participating in the Mitzvah Corps Major has meant to them or to describe a memorable experience from the first week and a half of camp?
“We were all sitting and doing art projects. The people in my group were singing a song when suddenly we were all singing together. It was a nice moment, as I was just hanging out with friends.” –Samara”
“For trip day, we all went bowling. I wasn’t sure what to expect…I was amazed to see how capable these teens were, despite the stereotypes made about their deficits. They ought to be treated just like everyone else, because they are just as capable as any other person.” –Rachel
“When I first started Mitzvah Corps, I was scared out of my mind…all of my anxiety went away when I met the tzofim (Campers with ASD). Whether going to another major with two of the participants or singing and dancing in Evening Circle, my experience in Mitzvah Corps has definitely been a positive one.” –Sierra
“The tzofim, while having different social, behavioral, and communication barriers, are our peers. It is very interesting to know their ideas and views on everything….One night, I was in Evening Program with one of the tzofim. The program made us think about what we thought about God. At the end of the program, we wrote in journals, describing what God was to us and what roles He has in our lives. The camper said that God protects us…I asked him what God looks like to him. Right away he said, ‘I’m going to draw a heart.’ It was such an insightful answer—probably more insightful than anything I could come up with.” –Margaret
“One day, we had the ‘Olympics.’ There were three challenges: egg race, basketball, and a dance off. It was really fun to get out and move around with everyone. I loved all the cheering and teamwork that everyone put into each challenge.” –Leiah
“I have learned so much about myself through this experience in so many different aspects, and it has made me consider my behavior, my language and at times, my patience. Through it all, I’ve learned so much. But most importantly, I’ve made so many friends throughout these past few days.” –Emily
“People usually fear the unknown, which—in the case of autism—means that they don’t know how to handle interactions with teens with autism. The MC program helps break down barriers by enabling the creation of new friendships.”