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Coming Together As One

Miriam EdelsteinGuest Blogger: Miriam Edelstein, a third-year Mitzvah Corps counselor at the Kutz Camp, a Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) camp in Warwick, New York. Miriam is a student at Caldwell University. 

When you’re a counselor working with campers who have disabilities, you’re always on the lookout for new ways and activities to help engage the campers under your charge. There is no better way to pick up these new tips and tricks than to spend time exchanging information and experiences with other counselors who work with the same population. This is precisely what I did during the last week of May at the National Ramah Spring Leadership Training Conference at Ramah Darom in Clayton, Georgia. I spent the week collaborating with and learning from counselors from other camps all over the country who also work with campers with disabilities.

I work as a counselor for the Kutz Camp’s Mitzvah Corps Program, which serves  teenagers aged 13-19 who have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It’s an amazing program that I am incredibly proud to be a part of. In the Mitzvah Corps Program, we have about 15-19 campers with one counselor per 1-2 campers. We “aid and fade”–we are there for support and guidance as the Mitzvah Corps campers integrate with other teenagers. A big part of my responsibilities include making sure every camper is safe while they experience life at a sleepaway camp.

During the week-long training, I shared my experiences with my Ramah counterparts and vice versa. We all had one common goal–to implement inclusion and to welcome people with disabilities at all of our camps. Though each of us are at different spots along the path towards successful inclusion programs, we all  share the same belief that every Jewish child and teenager should have the experience of going to summer camp.

From counselors at Ramah Outdoor Adventure, I learned that they had staged a talent show. From staffers at Camp Ramah in California, I heard about interactive prayer services filled with song and movement that would engage the campers. The information and ideas flowed both ways. I told the Ramah counselors about several music activities and a Disney scavenger hunt that I did with the Mitzvah Corps program.

From talent shows to services to scavenger hunts, I now have many ideas that I can’t wait to bring back to the Mitzvah Program and share with my campers. One goal of mine this summer is to teach the campers songs in Hebrew and provide a way for them to connect to services.

In fact, I have already begun learning new songs to teach to the Mitzvah Corps teens this summer. During the conference, we participated in a Tikvah service. (Tikvah is the name of one of the Ramah programs for campers with disabilities.) We learned “Rise and Shine,” which I am so excited to sing this summer at camp. At one point in the service, we sang and marched around the room (see video). I hope our Mitzvah Corps campers enjoy it as much as we did during the training session.

It was wonderful to be part of this conference and to share our camp programs and I hope that this joint training happens again in the future. If Ramah and URJ continue to share our resources, programs, and passion for inclusion at our camps, we’ll be able to better serve our campers in the future.

Training for the National Ramah Tikvah Network is supported by the Neshamot Fund of UJA-Federation of New York and the 2013 Ramah Israel Bike Ride and Hiking Trip. Additional funding from the Ruderman Family Foundation will facilitate planning and discussion around new developments in vocational education programs that will take place at four Ramah camps this summer.

 

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