Inclusive Camp

Tom Rosenberg, President/CEO
September 2017

Have you seen the powerful 2008 documentary film, Including Samuel? It's the heartwarming and compelling story of a boy named Samuel who was born with cerebral palsy and how his family and friends work to ensure he is included in every facet of life (Habib, 2008). Samuel's dad, Dan Habib, is a talented photojournalist, and his remarkable film will inspire you to champion social inclusion of children with disabilities in mainstream camp and school programs. I encourage you to watch it and share this powerful teaching tool with others.

Habib more recently presented a TED Talk that highlights the richness of Samuel's many inclusive life experiences, such as being an honor student, an avid baseball player, an actor, and more (2014). Habib also shares research studies that show inclusive schools result in increased collaborative learning and better grades for typical students as well as their peers with disabilities. Habib reinforces the social/emotional learning in inclusive programs that positively transforms the lives of every student, regardless of whether or not they have a disability. He reminds us that we can't teach inclusion; it really must be lived to be understood. That's why I believe it's essential for all camp directors to work harder to make their programs more socially inclusive of children with disabilities.

Creating a camp culture that is more socially inclusive of children with disabilities can be challenging, but is extremely rewarding for camps that strategically invest resources in planning, professional inclusion coordination, marketing, staff training, inclusive camp culture development, and programmatic best practices. Check out these wonderful resources:

Several years ago, as a camp director, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to apply for and receive a multiyear grant for Camp Judaea through the generous support of the Foundation for Jewish Camp's (FJC) Ruderman/Alexander Inclusion Initiative. Led by the FJC's Director of Inclusion Initiatives Lisa Tobin, this initiative provided funding for a part-time, yearround professional inclusion coordinator, an inclusion community of practice, camp director training, staff training, and a comprehensive multiyear evaluation process under the leadership of Stuart Schleien, PhD, LRT/CTRS, CPRP, executive director of InFocus Advocacy and chair of the Community and Therapeutic Recreation Department at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

The results of this inclusion initiative have been impressive. The camps in the cohort have more than doubled the number of campers with disabilities and are experiencing much success in retaining campers with disabilities. Having a year-round inclusion coordinator has allowed for more involvement in staff hiring, reviewing camper intake questionnaires, designing training, helping with cabin assignments, and matching counselors with campers. With more staff focused on social inclusion rather than physical integration alone, the camps in the cohort have made great strides along the continuum of inclusion. Through my participation in this initiative, I have been inspired to want to see inclusion initiatives throughout all segments of the American camp movement.

Every child should have opportunities at camp to learn how to live in a diverse community, embracing and celebrating differences. Inclusion is just as essential to typically developing children communities at large as it is to children with disabilities. As camp professionals, we must be committed to creating camp environments where people feel supported, enabled, listened to, and able to do their personal best regardless of ability. I invite you to join in and help lead these efforts, and I look forward to working alongside you.