Why Keshet Wednesday #6 — Camp Alumni’s Presence in the Disability Community

For many Keshet staff, working at camp is their very first job. It’s their first time getting experience with leadership, communication and responsibility. But working at Keshet is not your average first job. Over the past week, Keshet has heard from camp alumni who credit Keshet with where they are today in their professions. Their experience working with people with disabilities at camp with Keshet led them to becoming special education teachers, speech and language pathologists and even working in disability law. Each of their stories demonstrate that inclusive camping doesn’t just impact our campers’ lives, but our staff as well. 

We are excited to share the stories of eight past and current Keshet staff about what Keshet has meant to them and how it has influenced where they ended up next.

Abbey Finn

“I grew up spending my summers at Camp Chi, in inclusive cabins with campers with disabilities. I developed close friendships with these campers, many of whom I am still friends with today. This experience led me to volunteer and work for Keshet. Today, I am a senior at the University of Illinois studying Special Education. When I build relationships with my students, I often think of those early friendships I made as a child at Camp Chi. Having an inclusive camp experience is the reason I am an educator!”

Abbey with her arms around her camper

Marc Brenner

“Camp shaped me working in special education because I love seeing kids be kids. In many ways, camp allows kids to truly be who they want to be. They have the freedom to try different activities, step out of their comfort zone, and truly find themselves. When I first started at camp, I didn’t necessarily know that I wanted to work in Special education, and now, I do not see myself working anywhere else. I learn each and every day from the campers that I work with as a Site Director at “Z” Frank Apachi. I see how happy their parents are when they hear their child did something new that day, and also how happy they are. It is not only helping these children grow, but our communities as well. Camp truly opened my eyes to so many great opportunities and experiences. I’m looking forward to being part of the Keshet team full-time as a special education teacher this fall.”

Marc with two campers laughing on his lap

Eryn Minkow

“My mom was the regional director of the JCC when I was growing up. I was fortunate enough to grow up being exposed to Keshet, as I would spend my summers as a kid at Apachi and summers as a teen at Camp Chi. I volunteered with Keshet’s Special Olympics program when I was in 5th grade. However, when I became a buddy in Keshet’s Buddy Baseball program that following summer in 2006, that’s when I realized I was meant to have a career that involves working with kids that have intellectual and developmental differences. As I got more involved with Buddy Baseball, I knew I wanted to be a special education teacher.”

Eryn helping two campers at Buddy Baseball

Leah Solomon

“In high school and college I worked over the summers as a Keshet Teen and Tween camp counselor. I chose to work at Keshet because I was familiar with it from going to Solomon Schechter Day School and Camp Chi. Working with kids with disabilities was such an eye opening and enriching experience. During college, I decided to pursue a degree in communication disorders and then I ended up getting my masters in speech-language pathology from Columbia university in NY. I now own a private practice specializing in speech and language disorders in children. I see children throughout Chicago’s north shore.”

Leah with a group of other Keshet staff wearing blue shirts

Becky Gurson

“Working for Keshet helped shape my career as a special education teacher. Back in 2012, I started working for Keshet through Apachi and I knew this was just the beginning of my teaching career. My campers taught me about patience, communication, inclusion, and perseverance. My experience working for Keshet enabled me to further emphasize inclusion in the classroom and gain a newfound appreciation for teaching. I took my camp experience to my education classes and had personal experiences to talk about and relate to. Keshet helped me maintain lifelong connections with my campers and I am forever grateful for this amazing experience!”

Becky hugging her camper

Sara Schwartz

“Working two years as a two-on-one counselor with Keshet has opened my eyes to the impact I can have on children who need extra support to be successful at camp. This further inspired me to pursue a career in education, specifically in special education. As a rising junior majoring in special education at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, spending my summers with Keshet has given me such valuable experiences that I know will guide me on my path to becoming a teacher.”

Sara playing in the foam party with her camper

Jackie Shaps

“I was a longtime Apachi and Chi camper and staff member. I saw firsthand the natural and seamless way that inclusion was fostered in the camp setting, specifically in the cabins. As I got older, I quickly realized how much this benefits the neurotypical campers just as much, and I knew I wanted to help facilitate that in my career. Now as an elementary school special education teacher, I primarily work with students on functional life skills. My experiences of camp shape what I do in the classroom every single day. I feel so proud to be able to make a difference in the lives of all students and am thankful to camp for showing me that it was possible!”

Jackie giving her friend a piggy back ride at camp

Rachel Gold

“From a young age, Keshet taught me to love and value inclusion. Volunteering and then working for Keshet at Sunday school and JCC Camp Chi solidified my passion, and I knew I wanted to pursue some type of disability-related work. In college, I witnessed that not everyone with a disability grows up in the same type of welcoming and loving environment that Keshet fosters. I saw individuals unlawfully excluded from their schools and communities. For me, Keshet provided the model for the type of society I envision for all people with disabilities no matter their income, background, or place of birth. Ultimately, this led me to pursue a legal career. I spent law school interning at disability-rights focused legal services organizations. In September, I will begin a job as a Staff Attorney advocating for children in Washington D.C. The lessons I learned about equity and inclusion as well as the relationships I formed through Keshet have undoubtedly inspired my passion for disability rights and will always serve as a reminder for why I chose this field.”

Rachel hugging her camper in Shabbat clothes

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