From Lisa, Our Camp Director…
A parent recently asked “what’s Capital Camps’ secret sauce for creating such a warm and inclusive community?” My go-to response to this question is to explain how our Atzma’im (inclusion) program has influenced the culture of camp. From its inception, Capital Camps has had an abiding commitment to the concept of “camp for all’. We welcome campers of all backgrounds, denominational affiliation, gender, race, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status, including those with a range of intellectual, emotional, and physical abilities. Our Atzma’im program provides additional daily living and social/emotional support for campers with disabilities, medical or mental health needs. Even though we have a limited number of campers with evaluated needs necessitating extra support, the benefits of having an inclusive mindset help shape our entire community. We live the values of inclusion in how we set up our community, how we guide and mentor our staff, and in how we partner with parents to learn about their individual camper’s needs. Being an inclusive community is not something we do; it is who we are.
At Camp we define fairness as everyone getting what they need, not everyone getting the same. Our Atzma’im program highlights the important difference between equity and equality. When living alongside a camper with a disability, campers and staff gain a better understanding that a person may have different abilities but our goal for all is to figure out how to give everyone a fun and meaningful summer. As a nine-year-old camper once explained to me, it is fair that his friend who has Autism had the support of an Atzma’im counselor in the same way that it is fair that he uses an inhaler for his asthma and another friend needs some extra time from the Yoetzet (camper care specialist) when feeling homesick.
Camper care is a priority for us. This starts with taking the time to get to know each camper as an individual. Before the start of camp, parents complete an “About My Camper” form and campers complete an “About Me” form as a way to begin building a meaningful relationship with their specific counselors. Prior to camp, our Yoetzot (plural of Yoetzet) team works with all our counselors to understand the developmental and social-emotional needs of all the campers they will be working with. For the handful of campers that have more specialized needs, parents can complete the optional Atzma’im Intake Form. Our new Community Care Coordinator reads these forms and works with the camp team and parents to determine what kind of supports may be needed. It may be sufficient for a Yoetzet to be aware of the needs and help counselors make some individualized adjustments. We may set up a system where a Yoetzet has frequent check-ins with a camper. For campers with more significant support needs, we may determine that they should receive extra staff support though our Atzma’im program.
Our Atzma’im program includes a Coordinator, an Assistant Coordinator and a team of inclusion counselors. We have invested in additional training for this team, capital improvements, purchased adaptive equipment, and rented accessible vehicles, etc. In the past, this added cost was shared with families of campers who needed this extra level of support. Starting in summer 2022, campers with disabilities will not be charged an additional fee. This change is aligned strongly with our values, and we are very proud to be able to support all our families.
February is Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM) and is a time to pause and reflect on how our camp community is including individuals with disabilities. The goal of JDAIM is to create a Jewish community where everyone can determine how they wish to participate and where those who need additional support receive it in a seamless and respectful manner. Our Atzm’aim program does this; it extends our continuum of built-in supports and by doing so helps us create a warm and inclusive community for all.