Josh Fields is helping shepherd The Next Step to its next level as an agency to assist the disabled.
One big step for mankind?
That is the ultimate goal. But for now, Josh Fields is taking his Mitzvah Heroism one step at a time.
The 11th-grader at Central Bucks High School South in Warrington has teamed up with his friend, Ricky Price, a graduate student at the University of Michigan, to form the nonprofit The Next Step. “Ricky and I were exasperated to find that there is an extreme lack of opportunities for individuals with disabilities after high school. Thus, we started TNS,” says the 17-year-old son of Michele and Steve Field of Jamison, Pa., about the agency whose goals are to "provide transitional opportunities for individuals with disabilities; advocate for individuals with disabilities; and spread inclusion nationwide."
Did the need hit home for this congregant of Ohev Shalom of Bucks County? “There is no one in my family who has a disability,” he says. But Fields recalls meeting a Down syndrome youngster when he was a 6th-grader “and she transformed my life for the better.”
“Becoming friends with her taught me that who cares how somebody looks or thinks; the important thing to me in sixth grade was that I valued her friendship much like I would any typical person.”
His heart was touched, his soul energized: “From then on, I made it my mission to include kids [in his life] regardless of disabilities.”
To that end, he and his TNS co-founder and friend have planned their first fundraiser, to be held June 8, beginning at 6:30 p.m., at Spring Mill Manor in Ivyland, with proceeds benefitting TNS.
“Doing mitzvot is very important to me,” notes Fields, one of five children in his family. “I believe the world will only see peace and promise if we all come together to do mitzvot and promote happiness rather than hatred and segregation.”
He is no stranger to doing good. At school, Fields is treasurer and co-president-elect of Titans Connect, “a club for kids with disabilities and their peers to come together and socialize.”
He also takes an active role in his synagogue's Celebrations! “which creates sensory-filled Shabbat services for individuals with special needs,” he adds.
Best PALS forever? That organization, which offers socialization services for those who have Down syndrome, “has truly touched my heart. I have been a counselor at Camp PALS Princeton and plan to be again this summer,” from June 28 to July 4, he says of the organization which, according to its website, “provides an opportunity for our older campers” — ages 21 to 30 — “to live on the idyllic campus of Princeton University while being able to easily walk into town.”
There are challenges ahead for TNS, however: “We are still raising funds ro complete 501c3 status, which would allow us to become tax exempt on the national and potentially state level,” says Fields. “This process is expensive and we need a CPA in order to advance into this step.”
He and Price are still putting together a board of directors for the program; which is incorporated as a nonprofit in Michigan. Help is on the way — at least Fields says he hopes so, pointing to the upcoming fundraiser.
Has he been able to raise consciousness in the Jewish community? That’s a different story. Says Fields, “I have notified some Jewish community leaders about my plans, but have received not as much support as I would have hoped for.”