Summer camps thrive through inclusion

Keshet camp inclusion image

Summer camp is one of those experiences many people look back on with a smile.  Song sessions, campfires, swimming, arts and crafts, and friendships made over the summer that often last a lifetime. Everyone deserves the opportunity to experience camp life-and with more and more summer camps fostering a culture of inclusion, children with disabilities are no exception.  

Inclusive summer camp programming is structured so all campers participate together in the full range of activities offered by the camp. Campers with disabilities receive appropriate support and services based on their individual needs. At overnight camps, children with disabilities live in the same cabin as their peers and they experience camp in the same way as everyone else. 

Keshet offers educational, recreational, vocational, residential, and social programs for individuals with disabilities, and is fully focused on inclusion. Keshet supports children in existing Jewish summer camps, providing unparalleled opportunities for campers with disabilities to build new friendships, develop social skills, independence, and confidence, while having a summer full of fun. 

Keshet offers the only eight-week full day and overnight options for individuals with intellectual disabilities ages 3 to 21. Programs are offered in 17 locations in the Chicago area, into Wisconsin and Indiana, and has had campers from all over the country including California, Minnesota, Indiana, and Washington, DC. 

Benefits of inclusion enrich the entire camp community. Keshet's commitment to inclusion positively impacts peers and staff by teaching patience, tolerance, and acceptance. Keshet's focus on inclusion encourages campers to help their peers participate in every camp activity, no matter what challenges they have.

One of the keys to successfully fostering a culture of inclusion at camp is intensive staff training, which Keshet provides prior to the beginning of the camp season and throughout the summer. A Keshet director is on site to supervise and mentor counselors who provide one-on-one support to a child with a disability. The supervisor also identifies and implements appropriate modifications and demonstrates how to adapt activities as needed. Individualized camper care plans are created to clearly identify challenges and establish goals for growth, which allow counselors to provide the best possible support. 

Jen Phillips, Keshet's Director of Recreation and JCC Camp Chi's first year-round Inclusion Coordinator, summed up inclusion this way: "You would be hard pressed to know who our campers with disabilities are at camp. They are completely immersed in the camp community just like everyone else." 

This past summer Keshet served nearly 250 campers with a variety of disabilities. This would not be possible without the support of our partners, including JCC Chicago Day Camps, JCC Camp Chi, Ramah Day Camp, JCYS, Junior Gan Israel, and Camp Nageela.

Keshet is a partner with the Jewish United Fund in serving our community.

Deborah Bloom is a Communications volunteer for Keshet.

Ilana Carp is the director of Marketing & Communications for Keshet.

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