Open Hearts/Open Doors

More years ago than I care to admit, I was a camper at the JCC Camps at Medford in Medford, NJ. I recall having so many wonderful times, but none was as wonderful as the summer of 2014. As a Division Head, I was able to observe at a distance, my then 4 year old daughter enjoying the time of her young life. By the end of the summer, when every child in her bunk was hugged, and tears dried, she said she was ready for the next important time of her life – being 5.

I’ve spent 20 years as a Special Education teacher, and now, for the summer of 2015 I will have the privilege of serving as our camp’s Director of Open Hearts Open Doors, our inclusion program for children with special needs.  I couldn’t be more excited!

Open Hearts/Open Doors provides the accommodations necessary for children with disabilities to be fully integrated in the Camp program with their peers. With the one-on-one attention of an advocate, each child is able to flourish and fully enjoy their camp experience.  Additionally, Open Hearts Open Doors makes an incredible impact on our typically functioning campers who have the opportunity to learn acceptance and about diversity while make life long friends.

Seussical Jr 270Last summer I observed many moments in the everyday lives of our very special children. I say special because each and every camper, with or without an IEP, comes with their own unique needs and abilities. At camp, those needs are met seamlessly, and differences are celebrated! I observed caring counselors and advocates working as a team to guide their charges from apprehension to joy. I observed children with varying physical, emotional and academic abilities performing on the camp stage together to the rousing applause of fellow campers, staff and parents. Stars were born and magic was made.

My goal for 2015 is to help our very special campers achieve what every child should have in the summer – joy. While I love the motto hanging on the wall behind the reception desk of the JCC, Where people with special needs don’t feel special, I do want our campers to feel special. I want them to feel special in the way all children feel special: when they get a base hit, learn to swim, create a work of art, master karate moves, or perform in a play that everyone loved. The focus is on inclusion, which not only benefits the child with special needs, but also their peers, counselors, and the camp Kehillah (community) as a whole.

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