Editor's Note: In July, the Ruderman Family Foundation awarded five prizes to agencies across the world that are making the Jewish community into a more inclusive one. The New Normal will profile each of these amazing agencies over the next month. Click here to read last week’s profile.
The goal of the St. Paul JCC’s Inclusion and Accessibility Services Program (IAS) is to provide children, teens and adults with physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities the opportunity to be welcomed and fully participate in any and all programs offered by the JCC. The staff work with participants who need extra support and accommodations in numerous programs including: theater, swimming lessons, personal training, fitness programs, adult and youth programs. They have been dedicated to inclusive programming for the last thirty years. The program began in 1984 when parents came together and asked the JCC to create inclusive programming for their children, twelve in total, who had physical and developmental disabilities. One year later, the program doubled to support twenty-four children and has steadily grown in the years since.
Someone asked me recently how I would feel if I didn’t have Tourette Syndrome, if suddenly one day I woke up and it was gone. I’m sure it’s a question that anyone with a disorder, or affliction or disability considers and struggles to honestly answer. It’s become such a part of me, woven itself so intricately into the fabric of my life, that even at its worst, I cannot imagine living without it. It’s become a part of my identity.
I’ve had Tourette Syndrome for 24 years. It’s waxed and waned, gone through the roller coaster of okay to really bad to good and back through again.
Editor's Note: Thanks to our friends at the Foundation for Jewish Camp for coordinating this series of blogs from camp. More voices to come!
We have all heard that Jewish summer camp is one of the most valuable experiences a parent can give their child to ensure a strong Jewish foundation. If you think of it as a construction project, the earth underneath the foundation is the community and together, this community builds the foundation they share. As each child grows into an adult, the shared experience of community-building in a Jewish context continues to strengthen his or her Jewish foundation.
Editor's Note: This month, the Ruderman Family Foundation awarded five prizes to agencies across the world that are making the Jewish community into a more inclusive one. The New Normal will profile each of these amazing agencies over the next month.
JewishCare’s Big Brother Big Sister (BBBS) Program mentors Jewish children and young adults who may be facing challenges and adversity in their lives. Based in Sydney, the program helps these youth, about a third of whom have a disabilitiy, through the ongoing support and friendship of a big brother/sister mentor. JewishCare has developed strong links with local schools, synagogues and community groups to raise awareness about issues facing young people with a disability, and about the importance of their inclusion into mainstream services.
JewishCare staff members speak at local Jewish high schools about the BBBS program, and about how having a positive mentor can make a big difference for all kids, including those with a disability.
Last week, I found myself wearing an oversized camp T-shirt, sitting on the back of a bus headed up to the mountains for a field trip with a bunch of squirmy but excited campers. It was a bit of an "How did I get here?" moment. After all, I am a full time occupational therapist working in early intervention, not an educator looking to bring in a summer salary. I paid my dues working as a junior counselor, then a counselor at numerous camps … but that was 18 years ago. I have two children of my own now, both campers themselves.
It is my commitment to inclusion for Jewish children with disabilities and differences of all stripes in all aspects of religious life that led me to pack my own water bottle and sunscreen and venture onto "the field," so to speak.