Special Needs At Summer Camp To Receive Formal Study


The Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) is launching what is believed to be the first-ever research project mapping current services available to children with special needs and physical disabilities at nonprofit Jewish overnight camps across North America.

Using a $60,000 grant from Dr. Allan and Nan Lipton of Hershey, Pa., FJC is working with Laszlo Strategies, a consulting firm with a focus in helping nonprofit groups champion the causes of medical science and people with physical and developmental disabilities, to survey the field beginning this month. The research will detail the options Jewish camps offer and provide a baseline for expanding services. The research will be followed by a convening of the field — both Jewish camp professionals and special-needs experts — to allow FJC to locate the gaps, establish where and how the needs can be filled and develop a set of guidelines for camps to use as a resource.

A bus tour in July 2012 launched the Foundation’s formal exploration of the issue. Done in conjunction with the Jewish Funders Network, the three-day tour took staff, board members, and potential funders to eight camps in the Northeast to see firsthand the types of programs nonprofit and for-profit camps offer, speak with experts in the field, and discuss options and ideas for next steps.

Many Jewish camps are already accommodating special-needs children with inclusive or parallel programs, and several assess and enroll children with special needs on a case-by-case basis. Even so, although Jewish overnight camps serve nearly 75,000 children each camping season, they are able to accommodate fewer than 1,000 special needs campers every summer; the need is far greater with growing wait lists for many Jewish camps that serve children with disabilities.

This initial research will be the catalyst to exploring the range and types of activities camps could be using to integrate campers with special needs. The project will catalog the language and philosophies used by the field concerning special needs, examine legal issues, determine what steps need to be taken to improve the range of services and expertise of camp staff, and more.

“FJC aspires to enable all children to experience the magic of Jewish camp,” said FJC CEO Jeremy Fingerman. “We are committed to exploring and implementing the best and most comprehensive ways of doing so to ensure that we are meeting our vision of ensuring a vibrant Jewish future.”

julie.inthemix@gmail.com; @julie_wiener