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The “Inclusion Stretch” – Reshaping the Camp Experience

 

February is Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month. Join us as we share stories that highlight the impact of inclusion in our camp communities.

This past summer, I met a camper who showed me the importance of Inclusion.

Andrew* is nine years old and loves the Broadway play “Hamilton.” While at camp, he created funny parodies of Hamilton songs that related to each day’s activities and wrote poems about his love for camp. Although these forms of expression may be common for kids Andrew’s age, it was a breakthrough for him. Andrew was part of our Inclusion program at JCA Shalom, and I was lucky enough to be placed as his Inclusion specialist.

Before camp began, I learned Andrew had difficulty completing projects that involved freeform creativity, like writing and drawing. Due to his need for perfection, Andrew had a pattern of becoming frustrated and giving up on these activities at home and school. Amazingly, within a few days of arriving at camp, he progressed into writing daily letters home. Expressing himself on paper was not something he was able to do before.

In addition to overcoming what he referred to as “writer’s block,” he was also able to learn and work on techniques to control his anger. Andrew came to camp with a combative nature, but with his cooperation, we developed a system to keep disputes from becoming physical. When he gave me the signal, we would step away from an upsetting situation and “take a break.” This method worked so well for us; by the end of camp he was able to do this without my help.

The Inclusion program requires a lot of work and commitment, but it is worth it. At Camp JCA Shalom, we talk about how important it is to stretch. Not stretching as in doing lunges before a hike, but stretching as in opening your mind, embracing challenges and coming up with a creative solution. The Inclusion program requires a lot of stretching from everyone.

For example, the counselor who is stretching herself knows to plan a hike during the daytime to accommodate kids who are afraid of the dark. Campers who are stretching themselves try to hike next to a child in the cabin who still needs a friend. The Inclusion camper who is stretching himself knows to try their best on the hike and calmly tell a counselor if they need a break.

Andrew once told me that camp was a special place for him because he was able to create things and communicate with people in a way he hadn’t learned to do at home.

Our Camp Director, Joel, has always said that “at camp, you are the best version of yourself.” I believe this is true for everyone. At Camp we are all kinder, more patient, and open to trying new things. I had the privilege of watching Andrew become the best version of himself, and to play my part in helping him get there.

Camp JCA Shalom has been my home for the past ten summers, and this last summer had the greatest impact on me. I am grateful to have been a part of the Inclusion team.

*Camper’s name was changed for privacy purposes

Abbey Gross has attended Camp JCA Shalom for the past ten summers. In the Summer of 2016 she was a member of the Inclusion Team.

 

JCA Shalom is one of the six camps in the FJC Ruderman/Alexander Inclusion Cohort.

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