The following post was written by a fourth-year counselor at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires. *Names have been changed to protect camper privacy.
Breira B’Ramah at Ramah Berkshires is a fully integrated inclusion program for campers with mild to moderate learning, emotional, and/or social challenges. Breira B’Ramah campers are largely indistinguishable from their peers and participate in all camp activities with minimal modifications. The program is tailored to the unique needs of each individual.
Three summers ago, I was sitting on my bed as a junior counselor for the Breira program when a camper in the neighboring bunk sat on my bed. She looked at me and said, “Your inner beauty is inspirational.” Astonished and somewhat bewildered, I looked at this 13-year-old girl with a big smile, as these are not the words one might expect to hear coming from the mouth of a young teen. The camper explained further, “I notice how you are constantly providing Hannah* with support and I just think it’s really important for people like you to exist in camp and I can’t wait to be just like you.” Shocked at the maturity of this conversation, I took some time to reflect on my position. It was then when I realized how important my position as a Breira counselor was.
Camp is a fast moving place of busy schedules, hot weather, unanticipated schedule changes, challenging programs and intricate social interactions – things we all struggle with, no matter our backstory. Yet, the lessons to be learned and memories to be made here are vital for every child. I believe camp should be an opportunity available to all types of children, and the Breira program allows for just that.
My current camper, Rebecca*, and I have fortunately been together for two years. I had anticipated that this would be a job in which I would solely be teaching her; I never realized how much she would be teaching me. I see camp through the lens of our mutual experience. Some days are completely fine as she actively runs from activity to activity with her group of friends, while on other days she falls behind, searching for a hand to hold. On those days, I am that hand.
The biggest struggle that Rebecca and I have shared has been in the area of social skills. I’ve worked with her to enable her to vocalize her feelings, understand her body, recognize when she needs a break and allow her to recognize what’s appropriate in a social setting and what’s not. We have established written goals and set boundaries as to when I should be stepping in and when she should be coping on her own. This is not always easy for her. Her gross motor skills are not strong nor is she physically coordinated, making sports difficult. She gets tired very easily, making bunk activities and division trips challenging, and she is sometimes pitied rather than embraced, which simply hurts her feelings.
Nevertheless, these past two years have been magical. I have watched Rebecca acknowledge her struggles and overcome them. The lessons learned have been life changing. Thanks to Breira and the support from Ramah Berkshires, Rebecca has been able to create strong friendships, a connection to Judaism, and most importantly, grow as an individual and become proud of who she is.
As for myself, I am so grateful for the experience I have had with Rebecca. She has taught me that there is no limit to success. I, too have become more self-aware and tuned in to the ways that I can not only provide support for others at camp, but how all of us, working together, can create a more inclusive society.