Breaking Barriers: 20 Years of Yom Sport

Yom Sport celebrates its 20th birthday on Sunday, June 14 at the Solomon Schechter Day School in Newton. Yom Sport is an annual day of friendship, fun and athletic activities for adults with disabilities in the Boston’s Jewish community.

Twenty years ago, members of the Jewish community recognized a significant need for more programming for adults with disabilities in the community—but meeting that need would take a village. Enter CJP, and a collaboration that led to the first Yom Sport event in 1996.

Jan Klein is the director of Jewish Big Brother and Big Sisters’ (JBBBS) Friend 2 Friend program, which brings adults with disabilities (18 years and older) together with adult volunteers to forge new friendships and break barriers. She is also chair of Yom Sport and has been involved with the program since its beginning.

“One of our initial goals with Yom Sport was to make the activities open to all, while at the same time reach unaffiliated adults and hopefully provide them with more of a community,” she says. “The overall goals really haven’t changed that much since we started. It’s still about making new friends, raising awareness, giving people a chance to see similarities among people with different abilities, and offering attendees a unique opportunity to gain a new perspective on one’s own life.”

It’s no surprise to learn that many of the participants greatly look forward to the event.

Klein notes there’s one athlete who has been coming to Yom Sport since 1998. “I knew him from when I worked at the Department of Developmental Services. He comes because he likes throwing the softballs, and winning. And then getting the medals, of course.”

Another athlete recently told her “I love everything…it makes me feel happy.”
“You hear that and you know all our efforts have been successful,” says Klein. “You know Yom Sport has served the purpose to which we’ve intended.”

Volunteering with Friends

As Program & Development Officer for the Young Adult Initiative at CJP, Jennifer Marmer serves on the Yom Sport Committee and is responsible for bringing together young adult volunteers to help the day of the event.

“We recruit young adults between the ages of 22 and 45 to serve as captains and leaders on the day of the event,” says Marmer. “They love the experience! I get emails constantly from volunteers telling me how meaningful the day was for them.”

Volunteers who enroll as team captains and lead a group of athletes throughout the day now receive training. “That’s something we started about two years ago via the Yom Sport committee,” says Klein. “But many of the volunteers don’t have training and don’t have any experience working with people with disabilities. That’s why it’s truly incredible to watch them do this work so intuitively—and to be so present with the athletes.”

Klein recalls one volunteer who originally came to JBBBS wanting to be a big sister, but there were no Little Sisters available in her area. “I offered her an opportunity with the Friend 2 Friend program, to work with an adult with disabilities, but she wasn’t interested. Then, a little later, she volunteered at a Yom Sport, and came back to me after and said, ‘I think I’d enjoy that Friend 2 Friend experience now.’ ”

She adds, “Looking back, this event has changed from something we cobbled together to what’s now a well-oiled machine. Sure things have changed over the years, but what hasn’t changed is the impact and how good everybody feels during and after the event. And it truly does break down barriers.”

This event is made possible by the volunteer efforts of the Yom Sport Committee.
Special thanks to:

Jan Klein, Event Chair
Lisa Alpert
Sarah Chorney
Howie Hecht
Elliot Herman
Josh Lewis
Jen Marmer
Marc Rosenblum
Cory Saunders
David Shumsky
Alanna Zammett
Cindy Varga*

*CJP Young Adult Initiative Event Chair

Some Yom Sport Fun Facts:

  • 35 people and 50 volunteers attended the first Yom Sport in 1996
  • In 2015, 180 participants and up to 120 volunteers are expected
  • One athlete has been to a record setting 18 Yom Sport events!

You can become a Friend 2 Friend volunteer. Learn how!