21st Century Inclusion at JCC Camps

Written by Rachel Speck

Since February 2009, JCC Camps have answered the call to action of Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month, a unified national initiative to raise disability awareness and support efforts to foster inclusion in Jewish communities and programs worldwide. Never has focusing on this issue been more important than it is today. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 5 American children ages 3 through 17 — about 15 million — have a diagnosable mental, emotional or behavioral disorder in a given year. More disturbing, only 20 percent of these children are ever diagnosed and go on to receive treatment, which leaves approximately 12 million children who go without any treatment at all. In its August 2017 report, the CDC noted that serious depression is worsening in teens, especially girls, and the suicide rate among girls reached a 40-year high in 2015.  In December 2017, Harold Koplewicz, founding President of The Child Mind Institute reported, “Child and adolescent mental health disorders are the most common illnesses that children will experience under the age of 18.”


Thanks to a generous grant from the Staunton Farm Foundation, we are in the midst of a  3-year strategic initiative of broadening inclusion at our camps which includes empowering and equipping staff and improving physical facilities to more holistically accommodate campers with a diverse range of needs and abilities.


At JCC Camps, we are uniquely positioned to address inclusion through a 21st century lens with our cutting edge programming, robust staffing model and screen-free policy, which allows campers to truly “unplug” and more fully engage in relationships and activities. This coming summer we are launching our B’Yachad (inclusion) initiative at J&R Day Camp to become more welcoming to campers with varying differences and disabilities.  The program will be entering its second year at our overnight camp, Emma Kaufmann Camp.   B’Yachad will include updating our staff training (i.e., Youth Mental Health First Aid) and related protocols to build mental health literacy among all staff and for them to better identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness. With the support of a dedicated Inclusion Specialist and inclusion counselors as well as a new sensory room, campers of all abilities will have access to the same amazing experiences throughout the summer at J&R.


At JCC camps, we will continue to change the narrative by making inclusion about empathy and education, and not a concept that only creates more barriers between those with disabilities and those without.  We will continue to train our staff on inclusive best practices and infuse mindfulness and wellness into our workplace.  We will continue to strive for “universal design,” creating good experiences and a usable environment for everyone.  We will continue to strengthen our system of care by providing the children and young adults in our camps with social workers, guidance counselors and trauma informed specialists that can support them to be successful in a camp environment.

Through our inclusion initiative, the Center for Loving Kindness, the 10/27 Healing Partnership and many other programs at the JCC, we will continue to make inclusion part of what we do, not something we have to do.   Inclusion has become one of our core values, and therefore we will continue to innovate and look for ways to infuse it into everything we do.

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