Inclusion Coordinators at Jewish Summer Camps: Roles and Challenges

From Section:
Informal Education
Mar. 03, 2017

Source: Journal of Jewish Education, 83:1, 69-84


As appreciation of the impact of Jewish camping has grown, so have efforts to increase the number of campers able to participate in these settings. Inclusion of campers with disabilities, though not a new phenomenon, has likewise expanded. As more services are provided to campers with disabilities, more camps are hiring an Inclusion Coordinator to spearhead and manage these initiatives. This article explores the work done by these professionals and the challenges they face in doing so. The work of Inclusion Coordinators is discussed in the context of the evolving nature of camp-based inclusion efforts as a whole. The authors see inclusion at summer camps as an area in which much creative work has been done, and would benefit not only from additional resources but also from increased coordination as “a field.”

While those involved in the work of inclusion at Jewish summer camps have made significant inroads, there is, of course, progress yet to be made. Funding is needed for increased enrollment of campers with disabilities. Practitioners should continue to try innovative approaches to staff development and supervision, and advocate for changes in scheduling and staff numbers to make this happen. Researchers have a role in learning about the outcomes of these innovations and sharing these with the field.

We see the institutional and cultural changes needed to bolster inclusion and the work of Inclusion Coordinators as deeply intertwined with the need for change in how staff development and supervision occur at camp in general. Neither will be completely realized through implementing only a few discrete changes. Moving to full inclusion involves what Lisa Tobin, Director of Inclusion Initiatives at the FJC, refers to as a “philosophical shift” (Tobin, 2015) Hall, Dunlap, Causton-Theoharis, and Theoharis (2013) likewise point out that inclusion is more than just a set of policies and practices:

Once we understand that inclusion is not a place, a program, or a time-limited opportunity, and that it is a state of being and a way of operating that says “all are welcome,” we can overcome the practical barriers of resources, knowledge, and accessible facilities. (“The Power of Choice,” para. 7)

This work calls on ICs to be more than masters of specific techniques for working with people with disabilities; they need to attend to the fears and misgivings that might accompany inclusion efforts.

When it comes to inclusion, the common complexities of training and supervising staff at camp are augmented by the diversity of attitudes and experiences of members of the camp community. Staff training needs are multifaceted. Even the most well-meaning staff member typically lacks any formal introduction to types of disability or how to best create the environmental accommodations to allow a diverse group of campers to thrive. Even relatively modest steps in that direction can enhance the experience of campers with (and without) disabilities. For example, staff members can wear name tags to help foster interactions. Providing coverage so that those working most closely with campers with disabilities can get a break during the day can help to mitigate the unique stressors of that work.

To conclude, Wolfson (2006 ) describes the links among welcoming, spirituality, and meeting the needs of contemporary Jews. His vision is of “a Kehillah kedoshah, a sacred community, infused with the spirituality of welcoming leading to a deeper relationship with the congregation, with each member and guest, and with God” (Wolfson, 2006). We believe his words apply equally to the intense, intentional communities that are summer camps. Expanding the powerful reach of Jewish summer camps calls upon us to consider how to make these settings, in reality as well as intention, camps for all. It also calls upon us to better understand, and support the work of ICs and other front-line educators working with inclusion at camps and elsewhere.

Updated: Nov. 27, 2017
Camps | Experiential education | Inclusion | Program development | Research | Special needs