February is Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month. Join us as we share stories that highlight the impact of inclusion in our camp communities.
URJ Kutz Camp in Warwick, NY, is a Reform Jewish leadership camp for high school students. Every summer, approximately 200 teens experience an engaging, creative, and fun program where they work together with adults to enhance their own skills.
Kutz also offers Gibush (team-building in Hebrew), an inclusion-based “camp-within-a-camp” program for teens (ages 13-19) who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. High school students serve as peer-engagers to the Gibush Campers. This enables the Gibush campers to participate fully in the Jewish camp experience. This program continues to be successful due to the Kutz community’s dedication to include campers with Autism in all aspects of the greater camp community.
During the summer of 2016, for the first time two Gibush alumni-Ben and Michael- served as staff members. This added a new dimension to the “inclusion” theme. Ben and Michael working for Gibush entailed a number of new challenges to ensure that all the members of our community were set up for success. This began during staff orientation, when we set the roles, responsibilities and expectations—for all staff members. This included ways to ensure that we leveraged Ben and Michael’s strengths and talents.
As the Special Needs Camping and Inclusion Coordinator, I supported the Leadership Team and their staff. Through daily check-ins and observations of Ben and Michael’s work, we were all impressed by the amazing work ethic they brought to their respective positions. But their greatest impact on the community may have been how the staff guided them on a regular basis.
At the beginning of camp, staff members learned their roles and the processes behind them. During this time a few area specialists struggled to teach their teams how to complete important tasks. The specialists teaching Ben and Michael were able to bring new resources to use in guiding their teams—visual schedules, checklists, pictures of finished projects and other less-traditional ideas. These tools enabled the staff to look “outside the box”, helping their respective teams reach the finish line more collaboratively and with less stress overall.
Before long, the leadership team adjusted to their new normal. Everyone learns differently, and addressing the learner’s needs can more efficiently lead to a team’s success. We wouldn’t have gotten to this conclusion without the hard-work and contributions made by Ben and Michael.
Amy Kagan is the Special Needs Camping and Inclusion Coordinator at the URJ Kutz Camp in Warwick, NY. Amy’s involvement with Kutz began fifteen years ago and she is looking forward to another wonderful summer! During the school year, she currently works as a School Social Worker and a Case Manager for children with special needs. Amy and her husband Jeffrey live in NJ with their two kids, Sophie and Noah.