jewish disabilities awareness month

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As February is Jewish Disabilities Awareness month, we are highlighting a largely unseen, yet highly valued program of Camp Ramah in the Berkshires: Breira B’Ramah.  B’reira B’Ramah is a fully integrated inclusion program, for campers with the often invisible challenges of learning, emotional and/or behavioral disabilities. Breira B’Ramah campers are largely indistinguishable from their peers; they participate in all camp activities with minimal modifications.  What enables these campers to be successful at camp is a group of caring, talented counselors who serve as their shadows, mentors and coaches.

As director of this program, a large part of my role is to speak with parents about our program, as we work together to assess whether Breira B’Ramah would be a good fit for their child.   Parents ask me many questions, but this week, for the first time, I was asked, “What would make a young adult choose to be a Breira counselor?” This was a question I could answer with no hesitation, and I would like to share my response with you:

  1. Breira counselors have a mission; they believe that every child deserves a chance to have the Ramah experience that they, themselves, experienced.  These young adults are committed to providing support to campers with mild to moderate learning, social and/or behavioral challenges, who would not be successful at Camp Ramah without this special program.
  1. Breira counselors want a special one-on-one experience. They want to know that the strength of their relationship with their camper will have a lasting impact.
  1. Breira counselors want to learn and challenge themselves.  They know that, in addition to a week of special Breira training sessions, they will also have weekly group supervision as well as individual supervision with a trained professional.
  1.  Breira counselors want to be supported, as their job is not always easy. They enjoy knowing that any time they want to share a challenge, brainstorm, or  react to a crisis, they will receive professional guidance, mentoring  and assistance. They also know that the Breira director knows their campers well.  There have been conversations with parents about each child’s strengths, challenges and coping strategies. There have also have been conversations with the professionals who work with these children year-round. Therefore, Breira counselors are confident that they will receive feedback and techniques specific to the camper they are working with.
  1.  Breira counselors want to have the opportunity to teach social skills.  Much of their work focuses on helping campers improve their interpersonal skills, communication, and their ability to successfully resolve conflicts.
  1. Breira counselors want to plan ahead.  They know that, by working proactively, they can reduce their camper’s anxiety, help campers cope with transitions or unexpected changes in schedule, prevent behaviors from escalating and avert crises.  By brainstorming and rehearsing coping strategies with their campers, Breirah counselors enable them to successfully navigate difficult situations and build self-confidence.
  1. Breira counselors are empathic, and want the opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child.  They remember the childhood struggles of wanting to fit in and struggling to find their place.  They know that these struggles are magnified for campers in the Breira program and therefore, they work hard to facilitate the social integration of their campers.

Our program, now in its twelth year, has enabled campers from as far away as Chicago,  Ohio, and Florida to have a normative camp experience in a nurturing environment, guided by Jewish values and practice. We are blessed to have the support of the National Ramah Commission, as well as our own camp leadership, as we move forward in our mission to provide a Ramah experience to all campers.