When Summer Ends

Jo Ann SimonsBy: Jo Ann Simons

It’s September and that time of year when many young people are making the transition from summer life to school life. For some campers on the North Shore of Massachusetts, they are bringing back to school with them a new vision- a vision where all children are valued, welcomed and included.

These day campers, at the North Shore Jewish Community Center, experienced a new kind of camp. A camp where every child was accepted, regardless of their ability. Here is what happened:

summer camp inclusionThat young counselor in training. The one with CP in a wheelchair? He became a leader and while the chair didn’t entirely disappear, it made for some pretty cool rides.

That beautiful blond 7 year old girl. The one who attends school in a separate classroom and in a segregated building? She made her first friend. I dare you to pick out which one is the child whose school district sends her miles from her home and family each day to attend school.

summer camp inclusion

But summer ends and with it, our vision for an inclusive society sputters. Because most of these campers will return to our Jewish day schools and to some public schools where children with disabilities do not exist.

The campers with disabilities will, too often, be in separate classes, buildings, buses and playgrounds. They may be absent from synagogue life.

As we approach the High Holy Days, this is an opportunity for all of us, not just those who are family members of people with disabilities, to look around. Does your Jewish community have the human and physical supports that invite all to be among us?

Do these children of summer have an inclusive life beyond the summer?

As we come together to usher in a New Year, let us pray that all who are among us find room in our tent.

Jo Ann Simons is a Disability Advisor to the Ruderman Family Foundation and President and CEO of the Cardinal Cushing Centers.

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