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Inclusion at Jewish Camp Is Our Jewish Responsibility

Inclusion at Jewish Camp Is Our Jewish Responsibility

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Jewish camp is a place where each child has the ability to make his or her own Jewish choices, and learn what it’s like being a part of a Jewish community. However, many of the children in North America defined as having a disability are not properly served by the Jewish camp community. Their ability to experience and explore their own Jewish identities, and to feel what it is like to be a partWhat does inclusion at camp look like? of a Jewish community is often impeded by their disability and/or the lack of knowledge on the part of the camp on how to include them.

As Director of Disabilities Initiatives at Foundation for Jewish Camp, I work with our camps to increase the number of campers with disabilities. I work with camps on investing in staffing and training of camp staff, developing vocational and life-skills training programs, and enhancing their physical accessibility to children with disabilities. FJC aims to ensure that campers in North America with disabilities and their families experience camp as fully and completely as their typical peers. But what does inclusion at camp really look like? What are we, as a Jewish-camp community, working towards?

Inclusion of children with disabilities at camp is the participation of such campers, to the greatest possible extent, in the full experience of a regular camp setting, alongside their peers. Campers with disabilities spend all of their time with campers without disabilities.

The inclusive camp is structured in a way to allow all campers to live and participate together, while receiving appropriate supports and services based on their individual needs. Behavioral supports and accommodations are incorporated into daily living, often under the guidance of an inclusion coordinator. The inclusion coordinator works closely with all staff to collectively provide and implement necessary accommodations and programmatic changes to achieve success for each camper.

Creating an inclusive environment also requires a philosophical shift so that all campers, regardless of their abilities, will benefit. A dedication to the broad training of all staff to understand and work together in support of this vision is necessary. Camp-wide assessment of agency goals, programs and activities within the camp’s overall mission will ensure that campers with varying abilities and needs will fully be able to participate in the life and culture of the camp.

Facilitating inclusion is more than building a ramp or providing extra staff at camp. It also has to do with making friendships possible by allowing campers with disabilities to participate in all of the activities that take place. This includes camp plays and dance competitions, as well as sports, recreation, outdoor education, cultural arts and social activities during the summer months.

Goals for each program need to beGoals for each program need to be examined examined and revised so that camp becomes a place where individuals are allowed to thrive in all areas. This inclusive approach will ultimately have an impact the entire community in many positive ways.

One must ask the following types of questions: Is the appropriate goal to put on the perfect theater performance with only the most competent actors participating? Must a finished product in the art shop look a certain way? Does the blue team have to win every sports competition involving only the most talented athletes? Or is the value of the camp community to recognize attitude over aptitude?

All campers must have an opportunity to succeed and participate to their maximum extent.

Lisa is a licensed social worker, FEREP scholar, and the director of disabilities initiatives at FJC. She previously worked as the director of Round Lake Camp, where she helped move the camp from being a self-contained camp for children with disabilities to an inclusion camp. She lives in West Orange, NJ with her husband Rob and their four children.
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