The Breira B’Ramah in-cabin inclusion program at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires allows us the luxury of tailoring our program to the unique needs of each individual. This past summer, we saw a beautiful example of how this approach enabled our first camper to complete his Gesher (oldest age group) summer.
Joshua* (name changed to protect camper privacy) started attending Camp Ramah as a rising fifth grader. For the next five summers, he returned to camp for one session. Josh never stayed for a full two-month summer; we were concerned that the energy required to negotiate the fast-paced and highly social camp experience would deplete his resources, as is the case with most of campers in the Breira program. Even going into his Gesher summer, our assessment was that Josh was not ready to stay the whole summer.
We all know that children grow and develop in uneven and unpredictable ways. Josh returned to camp this past summer displaying a level of maturity we had not seen previously. His ability to interact appropriately with his peers had soared and he had learned to regulate his emotions. We were delighted to see the degree of seriousness and commitment Josh brought to his work as a CIT (counselor in training), as well as his ability to make positive contributions to the various planning committees that are part of the Gesher experience.
Josh understood that he was limited to staying at camp for only one session, but he was not happy about it. He desperately wanted to stay through Gesher’s three-day trip to Washington, D.C. After meeting with all parties involved, a decision was made to allow Josh to participate in the trip. Once Josh returned, he self-advocated that he be allowed to stay for the remainder of the summer. Again, we assessed the situation. We determined that, yes, Josh would be the first camper in Breira to complete his Gesher summer.
The last Shabbat of the summer is the most significant for Gesher, since it’s the last Shabbat these teens will spend together as campers. One of the most inspiring moments of the summer took place as more than 500 campers and staff sat in the amphitheater overlooking the lake and heard Josh’s voice as he led the camp in Ma’ariv (the evening service).
Gesher Tzevet (staff members): Thank you for making my last summer in camp meaningful and fun, for helping me through struggles and for being there whenever I did something productive and accomplishing. Also, thank you so much for successfully enabling me to stay the full Gesher summer!
Campers: You guys made an extremely large contribution to who I am today. All of your humor, support, dedication and encouragement have helped mold my identity. You have opened a special place in my heart that can never be removed or manipulated. I feel so proud and happy that I have been able to grow up with you and have been able to create memorable bonds and relationships. Even though our edah will be separated physically after camp, remember that we are Gesher 2014, and nobody from the outside world can take that away from us.
How wonderful it is that at his home away from home, Josh learned to self-advocate, and that we were able to recognize his growth and hear his words. Although we cannot guarantee that every camper in Breira will realize the same degree of success, it is still critical that we maintain an ever-evolving disabilities support program. Josh’s growth and individuation was the result of years of professional support and nurturing; with a vision, resources, and expert professional staff, we can continue to widen and extend the range of what is possible for all our campers.
This post originally appeared on the Ramah Berkshires site
Leslie Tubul, LSW, is director of the Breira B’Ramah program at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires. She holds masters degrees from both Columbia University and The Jewish Theological Seminary in social work and Judaic studies. She has over twenty years of experience working in school settings with students and families in both Israel and the U.S. Her areas of specialty include staff supervision and individual and group counseling, focusing on social skills, communication, self-esteem, and bullying prevention. Currently, Leslie also serves as a social worker at a private school for students in need of out-of-district special education placements.