(Page 3 of 3)
Jeff Braverman, director of the Modern Orthodox sleepaway Camp Nesher in Lake Como, Pa., remembers how things changed at his facility.
In 1997, a parent called after the camp’s first session. The mother, he says, asked typical questions about the camp and talked about her son’s likes and dislikes.
“At the end of the conversation, she says, ‘Oh, I assume you can accommodate my son, who happens to be in a wheelchair,’ ” Braverman recalls.
He was unsure what to do, but by the end of the talk he had invited her to visit the camp, where they would figure out how to make it more accessible to her son, who had muscular dystrophy.
“There was cost involved; there was creativity involved,” Braverman says.
Nathaniel Cohen, then finishing up fifth grade, showed up the next summer.
“He stayed with us for the duration of his life – as a camper, then a staffer, until he passed five years ago,” Braverman says.
Nesher has since become one of the official camps for Yachad, a program offered by the National Jewish Council for Disabilities that provides camps with staff members specially trained to work with campers’ myriad needs.
Families pay camp fees to Yachad, which then pays the camps directly. As with individual camp programs, Yachad also does its own fundraising.
Money is certainly a factor. Not only is there the expense of making camps accessible – Jewish camps are exempt from the Americans with Disabilities Act – but there is the added cost of extra staff. That includes the one-on-one “shadow” staff members who often must be assigned to help campers.
Nathaniel Cohen, for example, had one and sometimes two aides with him.
At the JCC of Greater Washington in Rockville, Md., Heather Strauss, director of special needs and inclusion, says the costs for special-needs day campers can be triple those for typical campers. The additional fees, however, are not passed along to families but come from fundraising for the program.
Other directors, however, say a portion of the fees is passed along to families, with the remainder factored into the regular camp budget.
Families often understand that they may have to foot the bill. Yellen’s husband, Ben, says that “We’re used to paying a premium,” not just for camp, “because we know that it costs more” to deal with special needs.
Meanwhile, Krishef says, “The goal of creating inclusive institutions is not something that we do once and we can now say great we’re inclusive, we can stop paying attention to it. There’s always someone else coming in who’s pushing a boundary on one side or another, one way or another, and we have to be ready for it.”