Inclusion 02.26.21

Inclusion as a Core Value

By Wendy Smith

The sun seemed to shine a little brighter, and the birds sang just a little sweeter, that magic morning of June 20, our first day of Camp Jaycee 2020 at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center in San Diego, California. Staff had only been working with each other in-person for a few weeks and were all still adjusting to the “abnormal new normal” of wearing masks and greeting friends with a wave versus a handshake or hug. A buzz of anticipation sparked the air as campers started to arrive. Everyone visibly excited to simply be able to be out and about as they began their summer at camp, following so many dreary months of solitude and fears of having to cancel their summer camp plans altogether.

Campers began to join their pods (groups of 12 campers or less, with 2 to 3 designated staff members who would be with them the entire day), met their new friends, did a round of hand washing and sanitizing, and finally – almost as if it were any other summer – camp began! For many of our staff and administrators, beginning camp in the middle of a frightful pandemic stirred a mental cacophony of extra worries and stressors, but within the first hours, many of our fears were assuaged – especially as we saw how quickly the campers were adjusting to what camp this year was going to look like.

For 75 years now, we have served the San Diego community by providing a broad range of day camping options, spanning from sports to theater, traditional to specialty camps, and everything in between, while simultaneously cultivating a rich environment, which is at the core of the Jewish day camping experience. One of the most incredible parts of our camp community is our continued commitment to providing a fully inclusive and equitable environment for each and every camper each and every day.  We embrace the lens of B’Tzelem Elokim (In the Divine Image -Dignity and Potential) and ensure that every child we serve at camp is able to receive the services and support they need to thrive and grow to their fullest potential while in our care, no matter what that may look like. We are able to be so successful in this mission because every staff member who works at Camp Jaycee knows they are responsible for this inclusive environment, not just the select inclusion support staff. Inclusion and equitable experiences are truly the air we breathe every day here at camp. We don’t just focus on this concept during orientation training; we provide ongoing inclusion training and support throughout the entire summer, insuring that each child is able to receive whatever services and support they may need to succeed.

Inclusion is most successful when it isn’t simply a program or service provided, but a core part of a community’s culture. Inclusion is taken into account in each and every aspect of every program that occurs every day.  This year, we are thrilled to be expanding our inclusive facilities beyond our wildest dreams as the recipients of a grant through The Yashar Initiative, a program of Foundation for Jewish Camp that is funded by The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. This marvelous grant will allow us to begin construction on San Diego’s first inclusive playground, which will be housed here on the grounds of the LFJCC. This totally unique facility will enable us to offer an accessible and sensory-enriching play experience for children and adults alike who may not be able to have this experience anywhere else in San Diego.

Summer of 2020 was certainly a unique 11 weeks, totally outside the experience of anything that we here at camp (or truly anyone in the world) has encountered before. But among the many takeaways from that remarkable summer was the knowledge that, with flexibility, teamwork, and an unwavering dedication to providing an inclusive and welcoming camp experience, we here at Camp Jaycee can truly thrive in any circumstance.  Our incredible camp staff and inclusion support team really did go above and beyond this summer to make 2020 one for the record books. In turn, Summer 2020- the most challenging three months any of us had ever experienced-proved an unforgettable and magical experience for everyone who wished to be a part of our family. We are grateful for the lessons we learned last summer, and will build on those as we plan for a safe, meaningful, and inclusive summer experience for ALL our campers in 2021.

Wendy Smith is the Inclusion Director for the Lawrence Family Community Center.  She has an MA in Psychology and has worked in the Special Needs field for the last 15 years, 4 of which have been with LFJCC/Camp Jaycee.  She is a certified Autism Specialist and specializes in Behavior Modification.