To Foster Inclusion, We Must Remember Exclusion

orlee_krassGuest blogger: Orlee Krass, National Ramah Tikvah Network Coordinator

We have all felt exclusion at some points of our lives, but each of us likely forgot about it as quickly as it happened. Such is not the case for the numerous children and young adults with various different disabilities who attend Ramah camps across our network each summer. For them, isolation and exclusion may be the norm. Hopefully their summers at Ramah are different, and regardless of whether they are attending camp as part of a Ramah Tikvah program or an informal program set up to further our goal of inclusion, all staff members at every Ramah have an obligation to make it so.

From January 5-8, 14 young adults from six different Ramah camps and one representative from Camp Young Judaea in Texas came together at the National Ramah Winter Leadership Conference for four days of intense learning, sharing and training about working with campers with disabilities. They gained invaluable experience from training on pertinent issues such as behavior modification, accessible programing, camper independence and sensory integration needs. By their participation, they will return to their respective camps in the summer of 2015 with knowledge of the programs each Ramah offers, and what they can do at each of their camps, respectively, to improve upon our broader goal of inclusion.

But perhaps the most valuable experience they will bring back to their respective camps is the one that all participants at the conference will also bring back – a fuller understanding of what it is like to be excluded and why we must do everything we can to minimize its occurrence. In a powerful training session led by the 14 Tivkah staff members, senior staff members such as rashei edot, Ramah Service Corps Fellows, and members of the Ramah College Network, engaged in an interactive team-building activity which left some of them isolated and left out. This served as an important reminder to everyone that no matter what role he or she has at camp, we must not forget that every activity could result in someone being excluded.

tikvahtraining2015The beauty of inclusion at Ramah is that it does not just pertain to Tikvah campers and special needs. Inclusion is a concept that flows to each individual member of our community. Together, we must look at every activity carefully, and consider how we can celebrate every camper’s uniqueness and abilities. Participants will now return to their respective Ramah camps and programs for summer 2015 armed with intensive training and a newfound appreciation of those campers who have felt exclusion far too often. Emmett Woytovich from Camp Ramah in the Berkshires remarked, “Everyone in camp benefits from training about the concept of inclusion, which is present in camp everywhere. All counselors deal with inclusion on a daily basis, not just Tikvah counselors.”

Training for staff of the National Ramah Tikvah Network of programs is supported by the Neshamot Fund of UJA-Federation of New York, the Ramah Israel Bike Ride and Hiking Trip, and the Ruderman Family Foundation (training for staff of Ramah vocational education programs).

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