A Virtual Summer of Inclusion

Becky Birch8.24.20

“Inclusion is not a program, Inclusion is a mindset. It is the way we treat others and the way they treat us. Inclusion is the opportunity to learn together and from one another.”

The quote above is from Lisa Friedman, an expert in Jewish Disability Inclusion, and her words speak directly to Ramah Darom’s mission. Inclusion is embedded in every aspect of Camp from the physical accessibility of our campus to inclusive multi-sensory programs.

When it became apparent that we would not be able to come together in Clayton, Georgia this summer, the amazing Ramah Darom team immediately began brainstorming ways to connect to our campers and staff virtually. It was clear that our virtual programming would continue with our mission of having inclusion as a mindset, or as we say, “At Ramah Darom, Inclusion is a way of life.”

To begin the process, we reached out to all our parents and guardians, and specifically to the families of campers receiving Tikvah Support to ask how we could support them during this difficult time. Our survey results showed that what everyone wanted most was a way to connect and feel a part of Ramah Darom’s unique Camp community.

We know that communicating and connecting can look different for everyone. During staff week, we focused on inclusion–ensuring that our team had the tools and resources needed to build a welcoming and engaging environment for all campers throughout our virtual programming. The Jewish Abilities Alliance of Atlanta lead one of our staff training sessions. During this session, strategies were demonstrated for including campers who may have difficulty processing or engaging over virtual platforms. Our staff was also introduced to the 3 Cs of virtual social engagement (Connection, Communication & Creation) and implementation strategies.

Over 30 campers with disabilities participated in our Ramah Darom Kayityz BaBayit (Summer at Home) program. These Tikvah supported campers joined their aidah (age group) during small “bunk” activities and community-wide group programs. Campers starred in talent shows and created content for “Nachsho Live”(a slapstick skit show and rite of passage for our rising 9th-grade campers. Some were counselors in training and helped their fellow campers have a meaningful experience. Campers and participants in our Tikvah Vocational Program sent their friends Shabbat-O-Grams and sang the familiar tunes of Kabbalat Shabbat as a kehillah (community). They danced alongside their peers on Zoom in all-Camp rikud (dancing), and they joyfully danced in the new week after Havdallah with the whole Ramah Darom community.

Our Kayitz BaBayit volunteer staff amazed us with the inventive, interactive programming they were able to create for their campers of all abilities. Hearing stories about the connections campers formed while at home and how they look forward to using newly learned skills at Camp next summer was terrific. Our experience during this very different summer confirmed the notion that Inclusion is not a program at Ramah Darom, Inclusion is what we do, and it is who we are!

“At Ramah Darom, Inclusion is a way of life.”

Thanks to funds from the Foundation for Jewish Camp Yashar Accessibility Grant, this past year Ramah Darom added ramps, automatic doorways and paved roads, making our campus even more physically accessible. And, thanks to the growing need to stay connected during this time of physical distancing, enhancing the accessibility of our online platforms has come to the forefront. We are now adding video captions for the hearing impaired, and descriptive text to images throughout our website, for those who are visually impaired.

We look forward to continuing what we started this summer, embedding inclusion in everything we do both on and off our campus.