This article originally appeared in JCC Camp Chi's Winkle's Blog, a series of articles written by guest bloggers, Camp Chi alumni, and Camp Chi themselves, to continuously keep Camp supporters up to date with everything Camp Chi.
Jennifer Phillips, Keshet's Director of Recreation and Camp Chi's Inclusion Coordinator, was featured in Winkle's Blog discussing inclusion at Camp Chi and how it plays a crucial role towards building a successful Camp Kehillah. Jennifer was a camper and staff member at Camp Chi and is a SIT of 1989.
I often get asked what inclusion means to our campers. It’s a difficult question to answer for many reasons. Our campers do not know camp in any other way; it’s a place they just call home. In fact, I’m not sure they would actually describe their camp as an inclusive camp. They would simply describe their camp as a camp for everyone; a place where all campers are individuals and are supported for who they are. It is a community that embraces all and becomes a family.
Camp Chi’s community is built around our shared Jewish values. We follow the belief that building a Kehillah (community) together is what makes camp so special. As a camp community, we want as many campers as possible to experience Camp Chi no matter what their needs are. There are two keys to our success with inclusion: our partnership with Keshet and our year-round Inclusion Coordinator. Camper Care is the foundation and at the center of what we are all about, and having a community where our campers, staff, and families feel like they are part of that healthy and nurturing environment is paramount to our success. A camper’s well-being and overall happiness is something that we take seriously. We know Camp Chi is a place where inclusion and acceptance are an integral part of the community. At Chi we want to make camp a place where we meet the needs of all campers. The camper care team does many different things at camp, but they primarily ensure that all campers have what they need to feel supported and set up for success.
Camp Chi takes pride in the fact that we do everything in our power to not turn campers away. We choose to say, “Yes We Can” and develop plans to make it work. This support from the top down sets a tone of what is expected from all staff. The Camp Chi and Keshet staff understand there will be challenges and that we will work together to solve problems and make things better. But in our Kehillah, we support each other, and are always ready to lend a helping hand to make someone’s experience more successful.
We recognize the benefits of camp for every camper, with or without disabilities. It is an unbelievable experience to walk through camp and see our inclusive community! At camp you are surrounded by so many new smiling faces. Camp is all about watching new friendships develop in just a few days, and whether it was being with new or old camp friends, life-long friendships are made and forever change peoples’ lives. We love to watch the magic of camp in action!
A person unfamiliar with our camp community would be hard pressed to know who our campers with disabilities were. Our campers at Camp Chi gain confidence and independence while being fully included.
Camp Chi is the most magical place for all campers. Campers are encouraged to be who they are and to be proud of that. Each camper is treated as an individual with his or her own amazing personality. We welcome campers of all abilities and work hard to make camp successful for them. In as many instances as possible, there is not a question of whether you can come to camp, but how we will make it work. Our entire camp community believes camp would not be the same without everyone who makes up our inclusive home.