Editor's Note: As we think about Earth Day this week, we are happy to share this blog from a young woman interning in Israel's LOTEM program that supports bringing nature to people of all abilities.
Last February, I visited three of the ninety nature clubs that LOTEM runs around Israel. LOTEM's mission statement came to life as I watched Noa, a nature club guide, run her activity and lesson for adults with severe disabilities. Nature was brought to life in front of them and I was able to see the direct impact that it had on them, whether it was a large smile or scream of joy!
Each LOTEM nature club I visited is part of Israel Elwyn, an agency that serves 3,000 children and adults with developmental and other disabilities. The LOTEM clubs are part of Elwyn's day programs and each contain eight to eleven adults who have severe disabilities. A majority of them are non-verbal and some are unable to walk. As the club participants would come in and out of the program room, each received individual attention from Noa, who ran a program about Tu B'Shvat. She incorporated a lesson on the parts of trees, an interactive activity which allowed the participants to decorate and plant a seed in a pot. She taught the story of the holiday and played a song on her flute.
The program included a lesson with visuals, an opportunity to feel and smell parts of trees, music, and a hands-on activity. Noa made sure everyone was involved. As we went from club to club, the participants' abilities varied. The program remained the same but was executed differently. For example, when decorating the flower pots, the members of the first club were able to place stickers on their own pot with assistance and draw with markers. The next two groups had more difficulties when placing stickers and holding a marker to decorate the flower pots. With the help of the staff, Noa and I filled the pots with soil and together with each participant, planted a seed. I was amazed to see how interactive the programming was.
Although the room was filled with many unpredictable distractions, the club activities remained engaging and exciting. The staff at Elwyn was incredible. Although the club can be used as a time for the staff to have a short break, most of them stayed in the room and continued to provide assistance as Noa ran her program. They too gain a lot of joy from seeing the participants happy and engaged. Some even participated! I was able to see the gratitude they have for LOTEM and all it brings into their community. Being part of this connection between the LOTEM facilitators, Elwyn staff and the participants for just one afternoon (and hopefully more in the future) was an uplifting, empowering opportunity.
Attending the LOTEM nature clubs was filled with small moments I will never forget. The programming and clubs set up by LOTEM create a community for these individuals where they live. Each week as they are engaged in a new program, something inside each of them is developing. LOTEM is helping them form a connection with nature through an engaging educational outlet. After experiencing a small piece of what LOTEM does, it reminded me of the importance of nature and of being aware of my surroundings. Making nature available to those with disabilities at an engaging and need-based level is what makes LOTEM so inspiring.
Alana Kessler is from Long Island, NY. She is spending a gap-year in Israel on the Kivunim program. She is doing her community service hours with LOTEM.