The Transformative Impact of the Atzma’im Program

Hannah Stoller, Director of Inclusion

While I love countless aspects of Capital Camps, what has kept me here for 16 years and continues to fuel my love for this place is the Atzma’im program, our fully integrative inclusion component. Through various support structures, we ensure that campers with a wide range of disabilities and neurodiverse identities can experience the magic of camp.

The “what” and the “who” of the Atzma’im program are pretty simple. Campers who need some extra help in order to have their needs met at camp are assigned a “go-to” counselor who provides 1:1 support. What’s a little more nuanced and commonly misunderstood is the “why” of Atzma’im. Inclusion is a longstanding Jewish value, and we have the Torah texts to back that up. B’tzelem Elohim is the idea that all people are created in God’s image, and it is introduced at the very beginning of the Torah. This value guides our understanding of why we continue to cherish and nurture our Atzma’im program.

The concept of B’tzelem Elohim teaches us that every single person has inherent value and beauty to bring to the world. We know that every child has their own strengths and gifts to contribute; accessibility limitations should not prevent campers from being able to share their gifts with us and experience others’ gifts. When we keep our doors open to campers of all abilities, we can all experience each other’s different strengths and subsequently become more independent, more empathetic, more justice-oriented. There is no one party that benefits the most from the Atzma’im Program. It simply enhances our entire community, and its impact is woven into all aspects of camp life. We are committed to inclusion because it’s right and just, but also because it’s the best