By Moss Herberholz,
Director of Inclusion Kayitz 2019

It’s Friday night at camp, and the singing after Shabbat dinner has begun. Chalutzim (campers), tzevet (staff) and orchim (guests) all stand up and move toward the center of the room enthusiastically to join in the celebration. As I watch from a table nearby, two young chalutzim come up to me and ask if they can have some earplugs. I pull two pairs out of my pocket and hand a pair to each of the chalutzim. Reminding them that they are reusable, I pull two pairs out of my pocket and hand a pair to each of the chalutzim. A few minutes later I have joined the gathering in the middle of the chadar ochel (dining room) and a tzevet member taps me on the shoulder, asking if there are any noise-reducing headphones left. I grab her a pair of headphones and mention to her that chalutzim have priority, so I may need to reclaim them from her later. 

This past summer in my role as the Director of Inclusion, I worked to expand what our inclusion program looks like, with the goal of providing extra support to campers who need it. One way I did this was by making personal sound-reduction equipment available to everyone at camp during meals, shira (singing), and other large group gatherings.

Meals at Ramah in the Rockies can be noisy; chalutzim and tzevet members engage with each other, reviewing the highlights of the day and talking about upcoming programming, All of this combines with the acoustics of our chadar ochel to make for a dissonance of sound. Although this level of sound is tolerable for many chalutzim and tzevet members, there are plenty of people whose dining experience is disrupted by the chorus of excited voices.

Any chalutz or tzevet member who will benefit from earplugs or noise-reducing headphones only needs to ask and they shall receive. Chalutzim are able to ask their madrichim (counselors) or any member of our camper care or support teams for ear protection and they will get it. 

We saw many chalutzim and tzevet members wearing their reusable earplugs or rocking a pair of noise-reducing headphones. With smiles on their faces and their ears protected, they enjoyed their meals and the company of those around them. Allowing them to socialize and get the fuel they need for a successful day at camp, all without getting overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the chadar ochel.

This accommodation, originally intended for specific chalutzim who needed additional support, has become a helpful resource for all of the chalutzim and tzevet in our community. By advertising this option to everyone, we have allowed anyone who needs, and may not have known how to previously ask, to easily get the support they require to be comfortable. What was once a resource reserved for a small number of individuals is now available to everyone. We, at Ramah in the Rockies, look forward to exploring more ways in which we can improve the camp experience and expand what it means to effectively support everyone in our kehilah kedosha (holy community). 

Dani Wallace, 2019 Director of Camper Care, with her Ilanot chalutzim in 2016
Dani Wallace, 2019 Director of Camper Care,
with her Ilanot chalutzim in 2016

Kayitz 2019 is a few short weeks away, and I could not be more excited to welcome your children to the Ramah in the Rockies ranch! My name is Dani Wallace and I am so pleased to introduce myself as the Director of Camper Care. After beginning my journey at camp in 2016 as the Rosh Edah (Unit Head) for Ilanot (rising 3rd & 4th graders), I returned to work for Ramah year-round as the Communications Coordinator – better known as the person who posted those much-anticipated photo updates! As a Jewish summer camp veteran of more than a decade, I am a firm believer in the unique magic of overnight camp.

That being said, camp can also be challenging! While some of these challenges may be physical, like summiting one of Colorado’s famous 14,000 ft. peaks, others are emotional. Learning how to share a living space, cope with homesickness, and adjust to a new environment can be stressful. To help you help your camper,  here are my Top 5 Tips & Tricks to ensure successful summer experiences for our chalutzim:

1 – Talk About Camp Early & Often

Start talking about camp now, if you haven’t already begun! These conversations can be a chance to unpack anxieties, foster excitement, and prepare your child for a meaningful summer experience. While reassuring your child that they will have a great time is important, don’t be afraid to acknowledge that the first few days might be a little tough until they get used to the rhythms of camp. Be sure to let them know that these emotions are normal, and you are sure they can handle it. Remind them also that their counselors are there to help and support them! Acknowledging fears and concerns ahead of time affords you and your child the opportunity to brainstorm coping strategies before camp even begins. First time campers might find that practicing sleeping away from home with a sleepover or two is helpful.

2 – Include Campers in the Preparation Process

Ensuring that your camper feels prepared is a great way to ease the pre-summer jitters! Utilize our online packing list to make sure your camper has everything they need to succeed. For some campers, being involved in the shopping and/or packing process can help calm nerves, so hand over that sharpie and let them help label their belongings, or go for walks together to make sure their hiking boots are fully broken in!

3 – Nip Homesickness in the Bud

The transition from home to camp can be a big adjustment, and many campers experience homesickness as they settle in. Printing out a few photographs of family and friends, packing a special stuffed animal to squeeze when they miss home, or including a prewritten “for when you feel homesick” letter are all useful strategies that can ease your child’s mind. If your child is particularly nervous, send a letter or one-way email that is awaiting their arrival to be read, or include a note in luggage for them to discover when unpacking! Additionally, including some pre-addressed and stamped envelopes in their suitcase makes writing home quick and easy.

4- Help Us Help Your Camper!

Myself, along with the rest of the camper care, and our leadership team here at Ramah in the Rockies are your partners in the success of your child’s summer! If your camper has a particular challenge that might impact their experience, it is best addressed before camp starts. If we know about potential problems in advance, we are able to strategize together and set your child up for success. If there is any information that was not included on your initial application that might help us facilitate the best summer possible for your camper, please contact Julia Chatinover, juliac@ramahoutdoors.org.

5 – Research Reassures

The unknown can be daunting, but familiarizing your child with Ramah in the Rockies before they pack their bags can make the transition to camp less intimidating! On our website you and your camper can watch videos, click through photos, learn about the daily schedule, and get an idea of what to expect upon their arrival to our beautiful chava (ranch). If you have any questions or concerns feel free to reach out to Rabbi Eliav, eliavb@ramahoutdoors.org or Julia Chatinover, juliac@ramahoutdoors.org.

I am looking forward to sharing a summer of fun, friendship, and adventure with all of our amazing chalutzim (campers)!

B’simcha,

Dani Wallace

Director of Camper Care


February 25th, 2019

Below is a note from Moss Herberholz, our Director of Inclusion, regarding the expansion of our vocational education program. To learn more about this program, visit the Program page on our website!


Moss Herberholz, Director of Inclusion

As we expand our vocational education program, we hope to provide Jewish young adults with special needs an opportunity to receive job training, learn life skills, improve social skills, and engage in Jewish learning with peers, all while enjoying time in the beautiful Rocky Mountains.

We hope that expanding our program will allow our inclusion campers to continue being a part of our kehilah kedoshah (holy community) even after they have aged out of our inclusion program. Unlike our neurotypical campers, who we often welcome back as staff members, up until now this kind of opportunity has been inaccessible to many of our inclusion campers.

We also hope that expanding our program will open our kehilah kedoshah (holy community) to new faces. We are excited to provide the opportunity to spend an extended period of time living and engaging in meaningful work while in an outdoor environment to Jewish young adults who were not campers at Ramah in the Rockies.

This past summer it was a joy to watch our returning vocational educational participant as he pushed passed his comfort level and grew. He spent the summer effectively and independently completing tasks in pack-out and on the farm. In pack-out he helped prepare food and other materials for masa’ot (backpacking trips). On the farm he took care of the animals, helped cultivate crops, and independently lead campers in activities for the first time. It is my hope to see many more vocational education participants learning and growing just as this vocational education participant continues to do.


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.

Campers with arms around each other

Written by Abby Gavens, Director of Inclusion

RafiDaughertyWe know it is that time of year: when everyone is scrambling to get ready for summer camp. We wanted to make your life a bit easier, and share this top ten list with you, adapted by our Director of Camper Care, Rafi Daugherty.

 

1. Print up our packing list to make it easy to “check off” items you have packed!

2. Make sure everything you are sending is labeled clearly with your kid’s full name (initials aren’t enough!)  Current coupons for LabelYourStuff can be used by entering code “RAMAH”.
3. Pre-address and stamp postcards or letters home from your camper(s).

4. Make sure hiking boots are being broken in and fit well.
5. Be sure that all of your forms are filled out and that we know about any medications or special needs your child might have.
6. Talk to your kid(s) about coping skills for times at camp when they might feel lonely, sad, frustrated, or upset.
7. Start getting letters/care packages ready to send (remember that it takes longer to get mail out at camp!)
8. Brainstorm with your child(ren) about games or activities they can bring to share with their bunkmates and friends (no electronics please!)
9. Talk to your kiddo about how happy and proud you are that they are going to have this awesome summer experience! They will leave with memories that can last a lifetime!
10. Save the camper care email address “campparent@ramahoutdoors.org” in case you have any questions or concerns about your child at camp.

BONUS TIP: Make sure to smile and take it easy- your kid is going to have an amazing time!