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Newton dancer helping to make the arts more inclusive

Sierra Weiss
Sierra Weiss

SPECIAL DANCER: While attending a summer camp in Palmer four years ago, Sierra Weiss of Newton signed up to spend a portion of each day with the special-needs campers. She had fun participating in the activities at Camp Ramah in New England, but came away with a more meaningful lesson.

“Kids with disabilities are looked at as the people who need help, but I’ve seen how much they can help other people,” recalled the 17-year-old, a senior at Gann Academy in Waltham. “They taught me so much about enjoying life, taking on challenges, and appreciating every moment I have.”

Weiss was a counselor-in-training at the camp during the summer before her junior year of high school, and she volunteered the last two years with special needs students at a Newton program, Gateways: Access to Jewish Education. A longtime dancer, she has combined her two passions by founding a nonprofit, dance4empowerment, to develop programs for individuals with disabilities and to fund inclusive arts programs.

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Weiss oversaw a dance program at Camp Ramah last summer, and she leads movement and dance initiatives at Gateways every Sunday. She is raising funds and recruiting partner organizations in order to offer dance workshops throughout Greater Boston.

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It is, she said, her way of giving back — and enabling kids with disabilities to benefit from the therapeutic nature of dance while challenging themselves in exciting ways.

“My hope is to give them a new way to communicate, even if they can’t verbally, and the confidence to express themselves,” added Weiss, who has taken tap, jazz, hip-hop, and lyrical dance for six years. “I want them to have fun with what they’re learning, and empower them to make a difference in other people’s lives.”

For more details on her organization, visit www.dance4empowerment.org.

FAMILY HELPING FAMILIES: At a recent meeting of the Holliston Pantry Shelf, 17-year-old Bruce Adkin (above) was appointed as a student board member and recognized for his service to the organization.

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Bruce learned of the nonprofit from his mother, Kim, who began volunteering shortly after the family moved to Holliston from Arizona three years ago. Bruce soon got involved, as did his father, Gregg, and 18-year-old sister, Taylor.

The family has worked shifts at the all-volunteer pantry, at which clients can select their own food five days a week year-round, and participated in a number of fund-raisers. In particular, Bruce was honored for helping raise more than $900 at a family yard and bake sale in June. A portion of the proceeds was used by the pantry for additional shelving and an air conditioner, which he helped select and install.

A junior at Holliston High School, Bruce said he hopes to organize a fund-raiser benefiting the Holliston Pantry Shelf each year.

“It’s a great organization that helps a lot of residents,” he said. “I just want to help out, however I can.”

In addition to seeking monetary and nonperishable food donations this holiday season, the Holliston Pantry Shelf is once again partnering with the Holliston Newcomers Club to collect new and gently used winter coats. For more details, call 508-429-5392 or visit www.hollistonpantryshelf.org.

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AWARD FOR AUTHOR:Seth Jacobs, an associate history professor at Boston College who lives in Newton’s Waban section, has won the James P. Hanlan Book Award from the New England Historical Association for “The Universe Unraveling: American Foreign Policy in Cold War Laos,’’ published by Cornell University Press last year.

‘Kids with disabilities are looked at as the people who need help, but I’ve seen how much they can help other people.’

The association consists of more than 700 professional historians living and working in New England.

In his book, Jacobs describes the events, circumstances, perceptions, and attitudes that shaped American decision-making in Laos in the 1950s and ’60s. Under presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, according to Jacobs, Laos became a “testing ground” for strategies utilized in Vietnam: support of unpopular but pro-Western dictators; clashes between American civilian and military bureaucracies; and a disregard for the native population’s needs.

A political and cultural historian of 20th-century America, Jacobs (above) teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in American military and diplomatic history, the Vietnam War, Cold War, and America in the 1950s.

“What makes this award especially meaningful is that the competition for it is so fierce,” he said.

Jacobs also won the 2006 Stuart L. Bernath Book Prize from the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, awarded to books on US foreign policy, for “America’s Miracle Man in Vietnam: Ngo Dinh Diem, Religion, Race, and US Intervention in Southeast Asia, 1950-1957.”

Nominees for the James P. Hanlan Book Award, however, cover a wide range of subjects.

“New England is easily the most historian-saturated region of the country,” he added, “so winning this award was particularly satisfying.”

SERVICE MILESTONE: Edward Ladd of Dover was recently recognized for 10 years of service on the board of the Trustees of Reservations. He was honored at last month’s annual meeting of what is believed to be the nation’s oldest and one of the largest statewide land conservation organizations.

A member of the Trustees of Reservations for 30 years, Ladd was a corporate trustee and member of the advisory council before being elected to the board in 2004. He cochaired the nonprofit’s Landscapes and Landmarks capital campaign, which raised $100 million in cash and land donations, and served on the search committee that found the organization’s current president, Barbara Erickson.

Since retiring from the board on Nov. 7, Ladd (above) has overseen the Chairman’s Council. He and his wife, Beedee, are also members of the Trustees of Reservations’ Semper Virens Society, a planned giving designation.

Founded in 1891, the Trustees of Reservations owns and manages 111 conservation properties covering more than 26,000 acres statewide.

SHOP FOR GREYHOUNDS: A Natick thrift store, Second Chances, offers shoppers a way to purchase distinctive and inexpensive holiday gifts while helping homeless dogs get adopted.

Items for sale include antique glass wear, end tables, lamps, baskets, jewelry, books, dishes, clothing, small furniture, holiday decorations, and greyhound-related products. The shop’s proceeds benefit Hopkinton-based Greyhound Friends, a nonprofit dedicated to rescuing and placing retired racetrack greyhounds.

Second Chances (below) is at 6 West Central St., next to the common in Natick Center. For more details, call 508-435-5969 or visit www.secondchancesthriftshop.com.

People items may be submitted to Cindy Cantrell via e-mail at cindycantrell20@gmail.com.