A Summer Camp that Welcomes Everyone
Upon arriving one summer morning at Shutaf, a Jerusalem-based, informal-education program for children and teens with special needs, it did not look particularly different from any other summer camp in Israel. There were children playing, lots of laughter, and everybody seemed like they were part of the group.
Upon closer inspection it became crystal clear that this camp was indeed a very different place. It is, in fact, a place where everybody is welcome to join in regardless of their abilities or challenges.
Crafts, games, singing, dancing, and friendship are ideally a part of every child's summer. But for children with special needs, too often they are not permitted to attend summer camp with typical kids. This has a double negative impact. Kids with special needs are not provided the opportunity to interact with and learn from typical kids while typical kids grow up with misconceptions about what it means to have a disability. This separation sets up both types of kids for a myriad of restrictions on who they will be friends with and who they will be willing to work alongside. Unfortunately, these misconceptions and restrictions stay with us well into adulthood.
The staff at Shutaf has spent the past decade working to change all that. Using a reverse inclusion method, meaning about three quarters of the campers have special needs and about one quarter do not. They are bringing kids together in a respectful and enjoyable way that is creating pathways for a brighter, more fulfilling future. As I sat and watched their version of Israel's Got Talent, I saw a room full of singing, dancing, and encouraging words and actions. High fives and applause were plentiful.
As I toured the woodworking, sports, animal time, and crafts sessions being offered, the positive societal impact of Shutaf was astounding. The camp is comprised of mostly Jewish Israelis but there were also Israeli Christian and Arab campers--but labels do not matter here. The emphasis is on enjoyment and friendships with the highly trained Shutaf staff providing support and guidance so that all the campers felt included as an integral part of the group.
During the art session, my daughter sat down and joined in. The other children around her shared their materials and she fit right in. The Shutaf philosophy of including everyone played out before my eyes in that moment. Consider this kind of behavior demonstrated in schools and the workplace. Think for a moment the positive impact this behavior modeling can have on society.
Beyond the fun of summer camp, Shutaf offers classes and social opportunities year round, enabling individuals with special needs to learn life skills that are often not taught in schools. I applaud the founders of Shutaf, Beth Steinberg and Miriam Avraham, who have dedicated over ten years of their lives to strengthening Israeli society by building more fulfilling lives for all her citizens. I am excited to see what the future brings for this dynamic duo and their inclusive mission.
Inclusion: Something to think about
1. How can you create a Shutaf-like environment in your school, camp, or work-place?
2. How does society benefit from all types of people working together?
3. Think about a time that you went out of your way to welcome someone else (or didn’t), why do you think you reacted that way?
4. How can you encourage your friends and family to be following in Shutaf footsteps?
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The Jerusalem Post