Summer 2017 is the summer of “Dear Evan Hansen” at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires. Starring a Tony Award-winning Ramah alum, many of our New York-based campers have been buzzing about this particular Broadway show. I can often hear the songs blasting from bunks or being sung around camp. As the Director of Breira (the program for campers with special needs at CRB), the plot, songs, and message of “Dear Evan Hansen” ring even deeper. The image of the kid, “on the outside always looking in” isn’t fictional; these are real children that I work with, with names faces, likes, and dislikes. Children who desperately want to be included.
Here at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, we have long strived to include and welcome all campers in the Ramah experience. For 15 years, we have been working to include the campers who might be like Evan: a lonely camper, “waving through the window,” struggling to connect with others. Over the course of Kayitz 2017, staff throughout Camp Ramah in the Berkshires will support over 20 campers with various disabilities.
This kind of support takes many forms. Sometimes counselors take on the role of social engineer, looking at bunk/edah dynamics and helping form groups or partners to enable a Breira camper’s success. Or they may serve as a friendly ear, listening to the trials and tribulations of the day as the camper gets ready for bed. Sometimes our counselors are cheerleaders, celebrating when a Breira camper tries something new and then being a photographer to capture the moment of their success. Breira counselors are not just limited to human roles: they are alarm clocks, tissues, chairs, water-bottle holders, and sounding-boards. Breira counselors wear many hats in a given day, each dependent on the individual need of the camper they are supporting and the dynamics of the other campers in the bunk.
The question we constantly ask is: how can we become a more inclusive and welcoming community? We measure the success of the Breira program not only by the success of the Breira campers, but also the other campers in the bunk and the edah. I have seen friendships form between Breira campers and non-Breira campers. Sometimes these friendships are driven by the more typical campers. But sometimes a Breira camper has a special interest or focus, and another camper in the bunk shares that interest. Campers who have been on the fringe socially, have found their camp friendship because we as a CRB community have been able to support a camper with a disability. Dear Evan Hansen has resonated so strongly because we all know what it feels like to be left out. The Breira program is working to build empathy and kindness throughout the camp community. This way, we all feel included and supported.
Here at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, all sorts of relationships are formed and cultivated no matter who you are or what sort of supports you might need to be successful. We try to live by the lesson that Dear Evan Hansen teaches us: “Today is going to be a good day. Because today, today at least you’re you and – that’s enough.”
Elizabeth Chipkin, Director of Breira B’Ramah, Camp Ramah in the Berkshires