We talked to Sharon Daniels who works for RSY-Netzer and Reform Judaism as the Wellbeing and Inclusion Manager.
What was your path to doing what you do?
Nine years ago I saw an advert for a Welfare Officer for RSY Netzer, for 12 hours a month. I was on maternity leave with child number 3 and deliberating the practicalities of going back to work. I thought this looked like a great opportunity to work a few hours until the kids were bigger, and to be in a youth movement environment which I had loved growing up as a teenager in FZY. The job grew….and grew… and grew!
It is great that now it is not just about me supporting the people with the most complex needs, but there is a recognition that wellbeing is for everyone, and inclusion it is an integral part of everything we do.
I have worked in lots of social care settings – with children and adults with learning disabilities, in a hospice, in mental health, with Prison and Hospital Chaplaincy and in Jewish community volunteer projects. I teach health and social care with the Open University. I have studied Psychology and Counselling, and done a Masters in Learning Disabilities.
Who helped you along the way?
Everyone I have had the pleasure to come across in my work and personal life. Every interaction and relationship is a learning opportunity. So often in my work, I learn from chatting to young people about their views and experiences. On a practical level, my friends and family are great at helping me with juggling an often-hectic schedule.
What have you learned along the way?
Being inclusive and looking after mental health benefits everyone, not just people with additional needs – for example, where our leaders have thought about how to make an activity accessible for someone with a learning disability, the whole group have benefitted by the session being more creative and clearer.
It’s about the person not the diagnosis - get to know them. Most importantly, think about their strengths and interests and focus on these. Then understand what their additional needs are and how they and their family, school and other support system meet these needs – then we can try to fit into the structures that already work for them.
The Jewish community has so many varied opportunities to offer – religious, spiritual, social, emotional, practical support, specialist support, careers – we are very fortunate and it is a privilege to be part of such an amazing community.
Tell us an anecdote
We have a leader who has Autism who is a fantastic film-maker. He made a promotional film for our Winter Camp.
I went a visit a child with Autism who wanted to come on camp, but didn’t really understand what it would be like – for example he thought that ‘camp’ meant he would be camping in tents.
I showed him the film and it helped him understand what camp is. When I told him it was made by a leader with Autism, he was so excited and said he wants to be a leader and make films when he is older. It’s so great that he has a role model who he can identify with.
Name a book film boxset or play you found inspiring?
I don’t have much free time. When I read or watch TV I like to switch off so usually find things that are fairly uninspiring and light-hearted. As a child I remember seeing the original version of ‘The Miracle Worker’, about Helen Keller, a deaf and blind child – I remember thinking how amazing the woman was who connected with her.
What are you most proud of, professionally?
One of our key principles in RSY-Netzer is ‘livluv’ which literally means ‘blossoming’. Having been at RSY-Netzer for so long, children I supported to be involved are now leaders. I can see the impact my work has had on individuals. They are blossoming - they have friends, have been on Israel Tour, they are engaged with the Jewish community, involved in social action and are sometimes supporting other young people with additional needs. One of them said to me “Thanks for helping me come on camp when I was younger, otherwise I wouldn’t be here as a leader today” – can’t top that!
Do you have a plan or ambition for the future?
Not really – I like to take each day as it comes and throw myself into what I am doing now. I recently gave up having lots of part-time jobs and have starting working full-time with RSY-Netzer and Reform Judaism, so am enjoying having more time to grow the work we are doing, particularly into Reform Communities, and with students through Progressive Jewish Students.
How do you unwind?
I love musicals and listening to Encore Radio, somewhat annoying my kids with my singing. I like cooking and baking. In the summer, I love going for walks in the evenings.
What hobby would you like to take up if you had the time?
I would love to be able to sing, but think I might be beyond teaching!
What would you say to someone who has just found out their child has special needs?
I would love to be able to share with them the successes of other young people with special needs, so they can see what is possible. The poem Welcome to Holland is often shared with parents of children with special needs, and I really think now that travel is much more accessible, there is a lot of choice and opportunity within both Holland and Italy for children to flourish and grow.
Who do you most admire and why?
I really admire many of the young people I work with who are thriving, sometimes against the odds, who want to help others, who want to change the world and are taking responsibility for themselves and the communities they live in.
Written by: Sharon Daniels