What does rowing have to do with ableism and disability rights? This question ran through my head for the entire duration of the bus ride to Community Rowing Inc., or CRI. We settled in on some benches once we got there, waiting for the speakers to begin. All of our eyes followed as two 6-foot tall, lean, muscular people ducked under the tent to come introduce themselves. Everyone paused as we figured out that they were the people with disabilities who were meant to teach us about adjusted rowing and the Paralympics.
This eye-opening experience was one of many that I’ve had during my summer as an intern with Teen JUST-US. We were able to learn about the different levels of disability and adjustment in rowing and the Paralympics. The value of intersectionality, which has been promoted throughout the summer, has taught me the importance of acknowledging that activism is a complex interest that deserves equal attention in every area. The enriching opportunities that Teen JUST-US provides during cohort days have supported me in expanding my activism and having an overall richer understanding of social issues.
Along with this, the connections formed throughout my time with the cohort have been deeply meaningful. As teens starting out with shared interests in both Judaism and social activism, it was an incredible environment for facilitating friendships. From canoeing in the murky waters of the Mystic River to building beds from scratch, we had no option but to trust each other and form connections that are hard to find anywhere else.
Judaism has always been a point of tension for me, and I have often found myself floating between feeling agnostic yet wanting the sense of community that an organized religion offers. Through this quasi-internship/fellowship/camp experience, I found a group of people with the same struggles as me. My definitions of God and spirituality morphed over the course of these weeks, and the conversations facilitated by the group were some of the most meaningful and enlightening ones I’ve had. Through these volunteer experiences and relationships within the cohort, I was able to gain a stronger sense of self and learn so much more about the world around me.