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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). 

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