We were pleased to read Helen Chernikoff’s article this week highlighting the Special Needs Camp Tour, a three-day trip organized by the Jewish Funders Network and the Foundation for Jewish Camp.
It was, indeed, a privilege to have experienced the visits with a group of FJC board members, JFN Disabilities and Special Needs peer network members and other funders, several of whom have a personal connection to individuals with disabilities or have spent their professional careers devoted to advancing this field. We thought it was important to add our voices to this now public discussion as we are inspired by the trip itself and its potential for moving the field.
This trip was not just a series of site visits. Its goal was nothing less than to create essential building blocks that ultimately will lead to real change in the Jewish world — by making it a fully inclusive community. The trip’s format was to provide a unique platform for intense dialogue among a group of dedicated funders. We created an inclusive learning environment between both experienced Jewish camp funders and experienced disability funders. Synergies between these funding interests became apparent during conversations with camp professionals, campers and trip participants. The Jewish disabilities community is a part of the Jewish community, not a separate field. This synergy should be present throughout the Jewish community.
We want to thank all of the camps that we visited — Camp JRF, Round Lake Camp, Nesher, Summit Camp, Camp HASC, Camp Kaylie, Ramapo for Children, and Camp Ramah in New England — for taking precious time to spend with our group and their candor. As anyone familiar with camp knows, it is not easy to take hours out of a camp day to devote to visitors!
Additionally, we want to highlight two camps we visited that were not included in the article’s fact box: Camp Ramapo, a project of Ramapo for Children, is open to children affected by social, emotional or learning challenges, including those affected by autism spectrum disorders; and Camp Kaylie, a project of OHEL, is an integrated environment for both typically developing campers and high-functioning campers with developmental disabilities.
Despite the good work happening at these and many other camps, there is too much unmet need and enormous gaps in what is available to families. Change can begin only when individuals — philanthropists, thought leaders and professionals — come together to build networks and work collectively to move this field forward. We all need to strive for a more supportive and inclusive Jewish community, whether it’s in Jewish summer camps or any other place in our community.
Vice President, Program and Strategy Foundation for Jewish Camp
Ruthie Rotenberg, Director of Peer Networks & Strategic Relationships Jewish Funders Network