By: Amy Kirsh
Inclusion is not a place or a program, it is an experience, a state of being and a way that shows the whole community that “all are welcome.”
Watching a camper get up on skis for the first time, climb the ropes course or jump on the water trampoline with a huge smile on their face…seeing how proud of themselves they are, or concurring a fear – this is what camp is for me.
I was a camper for years. I worked at various camps and then had the good fortune of being involved at camps where campers were given the opportunity to be part of a community where they might not have normally fit in to the “mainstream” camping experience. This is how my vision for Kulam came to be. Camp George gave me an opportunity I had dreamed about by supporting my idea and helped me turn this program into a reality. I created Kulam as an inclusion program where campers with varying needs and exceptionalities, participate in every aspect of camp life and are fully accepted into the community. Kulam is geared for kids who are on the autism spectrum, have learning disabilities, processing disorders, non verbal learning disabilities, and any other developmental delay.
Last year was Kulam’s inaugural summer and opened with four campers. This summer Kulam grew to 8 campers. My vision for Kulam was to have kids who needed extra support, who would benefit from a 2 or 3 to 1 ratio, even a 1 to 1 ratio in some cases. I wanted campers to experience and be included in everything that any of the campers at Camp George experienced. I wanted the Kulam campers to be part of a community and more specifically, a Jewish camp experience.
The Kulam campers are in a cabin with their own trained Kulam staff. They live in the camper village, eat meals with the camp, join other cabins for activities and celebrate Shabbat with the community. Camp offers the opportunity for the Kulam campers to expand their social skills providing a social structure like school, but in a more engaging setting. Campers enjoy group games, swimming in the lake, eating popsicles at snack time. Camper’s learn independence. They live in a cabin, they have cabin chores, they make their beds and are supported to keep their area tidy. In the Chadar Ohel, camper’s set the table, clear the table, and are supported to make choices around what they are going to eat.
Being part of a community and supporting the campers to reach their full potential, is what it is all about. Inclusion is very powerful and these campers may be limited with recreational activities they are able to participate in throughout the year. Kulam gives these campers the opportunity to be part of the community and participate in all activities. I feel this gives each camper a meaningful experience that they can take back to their communities.
Camp George prides itself on its safe and inclusive environment and what better way to celebrate diversity by opening up it community to all campers including those with special needs.