Picture two boys running after each other – laughing and smiling as they dart through the tent circle. Picture a group of girls sitting crosslegged in their ohel (tent), shuffling a deck of playing cards. One of them calls out to a girl sitting on her bed and invites her to play with them. It may appear as though there is nothing extraordinary about these interactions, and yet these were some of the most remarkable moments of the summer.
Summer 2017 was full of countless new adventures; I’d like to tell you about one of them.
In years past, Ramah in the Rockies has offered an Amitzim edah (special needs group). However, this summer we made the decision to implement a full inclusion model for our special needs campers instead. What does a full inclusion model mean, exactly? It means that all campers, no matter their ability, are included into their age appropriate edot and participate in all the wonderful activities our machane (camp) has to offer alongside their peers.
To ensure the success of this program, the Director of Inclusion, three phenomenal Inclusion Specialists, and the rest of our Camper Care team worked together to support not only our inclusion chalutzim (campers), but also their madrichim (counselors), activity staff, and the rest of our kehillah (community).
This support came in many forms. The Inclusion Team would float throughout camp helping to support the campers and the staff as needed. They provided training sessions to both staff and campers about what it means to be inclusive. They were there to lend a helping hand or to be an ear to listen to campers and staff.
When reflecting on the summer, one of our Inclusion Specialists said, “It filled me with joy to witness how the chalutzim in our inclusion program excelled and grew during their time at camp this summer. I look forward to watching this program expand and transform as we accept new chalutzim into our inclusion program in future summers, and as we see the overall inclusivity of our camp grow to be even greater than it already is.”
Why did we decide to implement this model – a model that brings about logistical hassles and additional work? Ramah in the Rockies decided to go the way of the full inclusion model because we know that inclusion benefits everyone.
Inclusion benefits neurotypical campers because it teaches them to be accepting of all people, no matter who they are. It teaches patience, understanding, and gives them an amazing opportunity to interact with individuals who are different from themselves, broadening their perspective in the process.
Inclusion benefits campers with special needs because it gives them an opportunity to socialize with their neurotypical peers. Our special needs campers have the chance to get out of their comfort zone and practice being independent!
Inclusion benefits staff as it teaches them how to work with a wide range of individuals. They are challenged to be more creative as they plan programs, problem solve, and serve as a leader and a role model. It teaches our tzevet (staff) to be patient and pushes them to be the best counselors they can be.
Furthermore, inclusion benefits you at home, because the lessons that chalutzim learn at camp are lessons they will carry with them for years to come.
Those boys that we asked you to picture? One of them had been a shy, quiet camper in our special needs edah in previous summers. As an Amitzim camper he had not wanted to participate in activities and had difficulty making friends. But this summer, in his age appropriate edah, you would find him eagerly participating in group activities and creating and maintaining friendships. And those girls? One of them struggles with creating friendships at home. Thanks to the inclusion model, she was able to form friendships and connections that she will continue to deepen in summers to come.
Inclusion is not easy. It takes time, effort, energy and work. However when an inclusion model is implemented and supported by a team of dedicated specialists, the results can be life changing for everyone involved.
Written by Abby Gavens, Director of Inclusion