The Canteen is a tribute to all things Jewish sleepaway camp. Hosted by the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC), this blog is written by campers, alumni, parents, and camp professionals and is a place to talk about parenting, camp fun, projects, crafts, recipes, and more – all tied back to Jewish holidays, traditions and, of course, camp!
February is Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month. Join us as we share stories that highlight the impact of inclusion in our camp communities.
As the Assistant Director of Camp Shalom, I’ve met so many extraordinary campers and staff members that have continually proven the life-changing benefit of inclusion programs.
When Jackson first started 9 years ago at Camp Shalom, he struggled to stay with the group and had daily melt-downs. Today, not only has he finished his time as a camper but for the past three summers went to our traveling camp which consists of being out of town for weeks at a time. Jackson will hopefully be a CIT next summer and I can’t help but be proud of how far he has come.
Vincent is another one of our campers who are differently abled; during his first year he was asked to leave in the middle of his first summer due to behavioral challenges but has since grown tremendously here. He is now out of Special Ed programming in his school just three years later. His parents have repeatedly told us that because of the support at Camp Shalom, Vincent learned to grow and manage many of his challenges, so much so he is now mainstreamed.
Our Inclusion Program not only impacts our campers but it also impacts our staff. Years ago we were in need of an Inclusion Counselor and at the last minute hired Carly who was about to graduate from high school. After only spending two weeks as a counselor in the program, Carly went on to study Special Education in college. Her career has been shaped from just two weeks spent with one camper.
When I first met Misty, I knew right away that she would be a great fit for one of our campers over the summer. Although she had never worked with the special needs community before, she was up for the challenge. Not only did she have an amazing summer, but she was asked to work with her camper the following school year. From there, the campers’ family received a grant that allowed her to spend weekends with the family and help the camper with life skills outside of camp. Today, she is happily attending a graduate program for Special Education all because of a summer experience.
Although their individual stories may vary, the shared experiences are life-changing. The impact from an Inclusion program at camp is not just with one person, it is with everyone. Camp is one of the best places to learn and grow while having fun. The impact is there, whether you see it after one summer or ten. It works, it helps, and it changes you. It certainly has changed me.
Jessica is a graduate of Arizona State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Education, with a minor in Mathematics and certifications in Special Education and Bilingual Education. In 2012, Jessica brought her 20 years of experience working with children in camps and schools to Shalom Austin. She currently serves as the Assistant Director for Camp Shalom (K-5 Summer Camp) and the Youth Coordinator for Kids Connection (K-5 after school programming), as well as leading many community events throughout the year. Included in her many responsibilities, Jessica is the Inclusion Coordinator for Camp Shalom, with a strong focus on creating a successful and fun inclusive environment for all children during their camp experience.