February marks Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month. What follows is one mother’s story about how resources in the Jewish community helped her son embrace the rite of passage of Jewish summer camp. Following her story are resources to meet the unique needs of every Jewish camper.
BY JODI NEWMARK, DIRECTOR OF ENCOMPASS
Jewish summer camp welcomes everyone - and I mean everyone. Our son Danny, who is now 23 years old, has attended Jewish summer camp for nearly 20 years. His journey began at the Mayer Kaplan JCC in Skokie. And since Danny was headed to Jewish camp, I signed up his younger sister as well. At three and five years of age, Debbie and Danny were eager and enthusiastic to follow in the footsteps of their older siblings as campers. However, for Danny there was a difference.
Danny is on the autism spectrum, and the secular day camp that his older sisters attended did not offer the services and supports Danny needed. Fortunately, an inclusion program jointly sponsored by Keshet and the JCCs did, and off we went.
Thanks to the partnership between Keshet and the JCCs, Danny was able to take a break from school and experience Jewish summer camp, and he has continued to do so into his early 20s, with the opportunity to participate in Camp Ramah’s Tikvah and the Tikvah Vocational Program.
Sending a child to camp—whether day camp or overnight camp—is not only a benefit for the child, but enriches the entire family and the larger Jewish community. In our case, Danny’s time away at camp gave our family time to take a much-needed breather from the routine of therapy and tutoring sessions that dominated our schedules during the school year.
Camp also strengthened our connection to the Jewish community. Danny is the only man in our family to don tefillin and to engage in daily prayer. Indeed, Danny doesn’t simply attend Shabbat services, but does so with enthusiasm (and a bit of noise). Seeing the joy that Danny takes in Jewish ritual activities has deepened our family’s connection to Judaism and to the Jewish community.
Our family’s story is not unique. Going to Jewish summer camp is a rite of passage for Jewish children—and one that every Jewish child deserves. Happily, more and more Jewish day and overnight camps are providing supports and accommodations to meet the unique needs of every Jewish camper.
Encompass, a program of Jewish Child & Family Services, is here to help families select the best Jewish summer camp experience for their children. The program forges partnerships with existing service providers to offer an array of support and services for Jewish and non-Jewish adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities.
Encompass reached out to Jewish summer camps and asked them share information about services and supports for children with learning disabilities and special needs, and for young adults with disabilities.
JCC Chicago Overnight Camps
For nearly 20 years, JCC Chicago and Keshet have partnered to provide fully inclusive day and overnight camps for campers with a wide range of intellectual, physical and social disabilities.
Chavayah Overnight Camp for Girls
Camp Firefly (in partnership with Jewish Child & Family Services)
Camp Firefly provides an overnight summer camp experience for children, teens and young adults who oftentimes have difficulty connecting with peers and navigating social situations. The program supports campers with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other social challenges.
JCC Chicago Day Camps
At 9 locations and a growing list of specialty camp options, Apachi J is a place where campers can discover new experiences in a safe environment giving them the freedom to explore who they really are, try new activities and create meaningful friendships.
Apachi J Camps
BIG IDEA Tech Camp
JCC Chicago Family Camps
End the summer with an all-inclusive, stress-free getaway at the popular Perlstein Retreat Center, located on the grounds of Camp Chi near the Wisconsin Dells. Family Camp is a vacation packed with awesome activities that bring the family together.
August Family Camp
Koolanu Orthodox Family Camp
Work, Life Skills & Recreation Program for Teens and Young Adults
Keshet Avodah Corps at Camp Chi
The Keshet Avodah Corps at Camp Chi combines work-related activities with camp recreation. Avodah members are staff at Camp Chi. They live alongside other participants while gaining valuable life skills and work experience.
Other Camp Options
Camp Moshava of Wild Rose
Camp Moshava’s mission is to model the ideals of Modern Orthodox Judaism and religious Zionism through a safe, engaging and nurturing co-educational summer sleep-away camp experience. In addition to daily prayer and study groups, the theme of summer is interwoven throughout daily activities.
Camp Ramah Wisconsin Tikvah and Atzmayim
Tikvah is a division of Camp Ramah that provides inclusion opportunities for children with learning, social and communication difficulties, including those who are higher functioning on the autism spectrum. Atzmayim, the Tikvah Vocational Program, is designed to strengthen social and vocational skills for high school graduates aged 18-21.
Camp Young Judea provides an overnight experience for students in grades 2-9. Professionals work with each family individually to best meet the needs of campers. CYJ Midwest welcomes children with emotional/social needs and those on the autism spectrum.
Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI)
OSRUI strives to be a welcoming community for children with autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, ADHD, diabetes, blindness, hearing deficits, and other special needs. Campers with special needs live with and participate in programming with their mainstream peers.