Making Camp Accessible

This particular moment in the Jewish year always excites our team at Foundation for Jewish Camp. With the holidays of Tishrei now behind us and this new month of Cheshvan, there is a renewed sense of energy and purpose in the Jewish camp community.

Camps are busy evaluating results of this past summer and planning for the next. FJC’s various cohort programs offer workshops, training, and inspiration. Our One Happy Camper program has already opened registration for Summer 2019 and applications are pouring in.

This year, we’ve been given a wonderful reason for even more gratitude and excitement. FJC has been fortunate to receive a transformative $12 million grant from The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation toward The Yashar Initiative — to increase accessibility for campers and staff with disabilities at Jewish day and overnight camps. Like the root of the word Yashar, this initiative will build inclusive camps with integrity. It is our aspiration that the field of Jewish camp mirrors our Jewish community, and it is our mandate to level the field, making it accessible to all. This incredible grant builds on our previous work and success, and will stimulate accelerated field growth.

For the past five years, FJC has championed inclusion for people with disabilities. In 2013, FJC’s study Jewish Camp for Children with Disabilities and Special Needs (conducted by Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi and funded by Nan and Alan Lipton) was the first research of its kind in the Jewish community to explore camps’ desire, capacity, and readiness to include campers with disabilities. The study identified staff training and funding for capital improvements as the most critical needs for the field and has served as a catalyst for our efforts to make camps more inclusive and accessible.

FJC’s Ruderman/Alexander Inclusion Initiative drove a 172% increase in the number of campers with disabilities served by the six participating camps in the cohort over three years. Our evaluation of the initiative (2017 with InFocus) was a comprehensive, 3-year, qualitative and quantitative study that found the participating camps demonstrated a new “culture of inclusion.” Their work is a powerful reminder that inclusion is not a “program” at camp, but rather a philosophy and culture.

Additional funding from the Klarman Family Foundation, the Oppenheimer-Haas Foundation, and the Neshamot Fund of UJA-Federation of NY among others enabled FJC to extend our impact with staff resources, a Community of Practice, and training materials all made available to the field.

FJC’s work supporting inclusion at Jewish camp is guided by the belief that families, campers and staff with disabilities should never have to choose between having their needs met and experiencing a meaningful Jewish summer. Through the Weinberg Foundation and FJC’s shared commitment to accessibility, we plan to shape a future in which seamless inclusion of people with disabilities and the joy of experiencing Jewish camp are synonymous.

We are incredibly grateful to the Weinberg Foundation for its unprecedented support that will allow FJC to build on our successes and provide our most robust support for campers and staff with disabilities yet. I have been so heartened by the unbridled enthusiasm and interest expressed by so many surrounding the capital matching grants and training resources for both day and overnight camps provided through this initiative.

We look forward to the exciting work ahead as together we help make camp more accessible for all.

About the Author
Jeremy J. Fingerman has served as CEO of Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) since 2010. Prior to joining FJC, he had a highly-regarded 20+ year career in Consumer Packaged Goods, beginning at General Mills, Inc, then at Campbell Soup Company, where he served as president of its largest division, US Soup. In 2005, he was recruited to serve as CEO of Manischewitz.
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