The Seamless Inclusion of Campers with Support Needs by Howard Blas, Director, National Ramah Tikvah Network

As the director of the National Ramah Tikvah Network, I have the privilege of visiting our Ramah camps and helping directors and Tikvah directors support children and young adults with disabilities as they are included in the camp community. I have visited every overnight camp at least once and am visiting three of our day camps this summer. What a treat to see Ramah Day Camp Greater Boston in action last week — during Yom Sport! 

While the quality of programming, variety of activities, great structure and responsible, enthusiastic staff are all worthy of blog posts, I would like to focus on the seamless and intentional inclusion of campers with support needs that was apparent as I walked the grounds and met with Rabbi Silverman and Tzviyah Kusnitz, the Tikvah (inclusion) director. Most camps are committed to including people with disabilities. New camps often make the understandable decision to get established for a year or two before introducing people with disabilities into the community. At the Boston Day Camp, campers and staff with visible and invisible disabilities have been included and supported from the start; they are contributing a great deal to camp.

Rabbi Silverman received a call from the parents of Binny, a young man in the community in search of a vocational training program. She and her staff developed a plan for Binny: he joins campers on the bus to and from camp each day, sets the Chadar Ochel (dining room) for lunch, distributes snacks, and participates in Jewish learning, chugim (electives) and more. 

When I contacted Rabbi Silverman about a 54-year-old former camper of mine from the Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah New England who was hoping to work for a week or two at camp while on vacation from his job at a Boston supermarket (yes – we have been in touch all these years!), she reminded me that she did not formally offer a job training or supported employment program, but she would be happy to interview him and see if he might be a good fit for an open position. Matthew had expressed interest in so many areas of camp. He will soon arrive to work as an assistant on the sports staff. 

While the program that supports people with disabilities at the Boston Day Camp is in its infancy, Tzviyah has provided training and tools to enable staff to support their campers with various disabilities and support needs. For example, Tzviyah recognized that some campers need a quieter space for lunch and a quieter space was found. A sensory space has been established for campers who might need a break from their regular routine. In addition to working with the staff, Tzviyah communicates with parents and professionals as well.

The campers with disabilities clearly benefit from the support that camp provides. One thing I have learned in my nearly 40 years connected to the Tikvah Program at Ramah is that everyone benefits by having this at camp. Ramah Boston is on the road to changing attitudes through its inclusion of campers and staff with different abilities. I can’t wait to see how these efforts at Ramah Boston will continue to grow!

Categories: Boston Day Camp, Tikvah