It’s Jewish Disability Awareness Acceptance and Inclusion Month – a time to celebrate differences. As a camp, we have a unique opportunity to teach our campers and staff skills that can carry over to their homes that will help create environments where diversity and inclusion are embraced. What does it mean for a camp to be a truly inclusive space? Camp Yavneh has worked hard to develop an answer to this question, and for the past four summers has created solutions to address the needs of our diverse community.
The Yedidut (Friendship) program was launched five years ago in an effort to support campers and help them feel successful and celebrated. Over the first year, we met with the campers and their families to learn about their interests, strengths, and strategies to help them feel successful at camp. We also met with counselors and staff and trained them to ensure that there was consistency, and everyone that needed to be was informed about each individual camper’s unique profile. That first summer was not without missteps, but it opened our eyes to the bigger need that exists in helping all of our campers feel included, celebrated, and embraced as part of a family at Camp Yavneh.
The Yedidut program has expanded – it now runs all summer. Last year we had over 30 kids in the program of varying needs and we have learned that so many of the strategies that we use on specific individuals can be generalized to benefit the larger community. We have created our beloved chill space, the Merc, and many campers and staff members utilize this space to help them reset and recharge. We introduced a buddy program where Kerem campers are buddied with younger campers to help groups socialize more successfully. Each bunk is equipped with sensory toys and tools, and visual schedules are seen throughout bunks. Counselors are trained to talk with their bunks about what it means to have a safe space in camp and how everyone should be afforded the right to feel safe (physically and emotionally) at camp.
Throughout this year we have gone to a multitude of training sessions in Langhorne, PA, Miami, Boston, and Ramah Outdoors (just to name a few) to fine tune our craft and dig deeper. We are in the process of creating a sensory guide to help families prepare their children for camp, and to help staff better understand what it means when an activity is “sensory overload”. We are also working hard to better train staff on how to identify and address bullying of all types for all campers. We continue to learn about mental health and how to best support campers and staff in this arena.
We continue to develop and work on ensuring that Yavneh is a place where children can grow and feel celebrated as their authentic selves. We are proud of the work that we have done thus far, but our effort in creating an inclusive environment is far from finished. And we hope that with each passing year, we get that much closer to creating an environment where everyone feels celebrated.