The Reform-affiliated camp is one of four camps nationally to receive a grant to boost accessibility for special needs campers.
Camp Harlam has received a grant from the Foundation for Jewish Camp to help the overnight camp in the Poconos become more inclusive of children with physical and mental disabilities.
The camp, which is affiliated with the Reform movement, is one of four camps selected to participate in the foundation’s Ruderman Inclusion Initiative, which will provide training and allow each camp to hire a staff member whose job is dedicated to children with special needs.
The camp’s participation in the program comes as Camp Ramah, a Conservative camp also located in the Poconos, is similarly trying
to better serve the special needs population by adding additional cabins, infrastructure and integrating what had been a separate camp at the end of the summer into its regular camp sessions.
The FJC grant to Harlam will provide $45,000 over three years, and the camp has agreed to raise $30,000 in matching funds. The other recipients were Camp Young Judea Texas, Camp B’nai Brith Oregon and Camp JCA Shalom in California.
The aim of the initiative is to better accommodate a range of children, from those with learning disabilities and attention deficit issues to those with physical disabilities, said Harlam's director, Aaron Selkow.
The camp already has “dozens of kids” who fit into that spectrum, said Selkow. He added that the grant is more about better serving those campers rather than attracting new campers. The job of the coordinator — whom Harlam has not yet hired — could mean working to create continuity between a child’s individualized education program at school and his or her experience at camp, Selkow said.
The Harlam coordinator, who is expected to be in place the next camp season, will also undergo professional development and be in communication with staff from the other camps in the initiative.
“We believe that to be a successful, mainstream, inclusive camp program today, we need to be able to accommodate the needs of every child, and that includes those who have special needs,” said Selkow.
The goal, Selkow emphasized, is not to change the makeup of the camp population or increase the number of children with special needs who attend.
“One of the things that we're sensitive to is not wanting people to read that Camp Harlam is about to serving kids with Down syndrome, kids that are blind — maybe we will — but that's not what's going on,” said Selkow. Part of the coordinator's job could also mean meeting with families and figuring out if Harlam could best serve the campers’ needs or if they should attend a different program.
Selkow said he has heard positive feedback from parents since the grant was announced.
“What's going on in is we've already been enhancing our ability as an institution to serve kids with special needs," Selkow said, noting that the camp has added several disabled-accessible cabins in recent years. "We’re proud of where we are, and this is only going to enhance our ability” in “basically serving the same kids as we were before.”