By Lisa Friedman
Some communities just get it: They understand that inclusion a mindset, a way of thinking about how we treat one another, ensuring that everyone has a place. These communities understand that inclusion is who we are and who we want to be.
I have been fortunate to know and work in a few such communities, and what’s most remarkable about them is that there isn’t a lot of fanfare or bragging. Rather, inclusivity is simply and seamlessly a part of their vision, woven into the fabric of conversations, planning and programs. Trust me: These are places you want to be.
My friend and colleague, Greg Kellner, has built such a community at URJ 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy in Byfield, MA, an amazing Reform Jewish overnight camp for kids and teens passionate about all things science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). When Greg first took the reins as the camp’s director nearly four years ago, he and I sat down together. He’d been tasked with building a camp from scratch, but he told me he wanted to be mindful and intentional about creating a camp community that was meaningfully inclusive. I was then and continue to be now, as camp heads into its third summer, so very impressed.
That’s why it was such an honor and a joy to have spent a few days with this year’s staff, leading sessions and conversations on the topic of disability inclusion.
Camp has grown, and as such, Greg has thoughtfully evolved his staff structure to meet the needs of every camper. As this current summer unfolds, Sci-Tech will enjoy not only a dedicated inclusion coordinator, but also three general counselors whose specific focus will be on inclusive practice. They will serve as a support to an array of campers with a variety of needs and will be a resource for the other counselors in best practices. I can’t wait to see this all in action!
One of my favorite moments came as I led a session for the full staff. I asked them to think about a time when they were excluded, noting that we’ve all had such moments. Go ahead, think about yours. It was poignant for me, as a presenter, to see all of their faces as they recalled the pain of exclusion.
I went on to say the following: “Hold this memory close. Remember what it felt like to be excluded so that you can help build a community where everyone is included. Think about the person who finally opened that door for you, the one who brought you in. Recall that person’s actions and words so that you can find ways to mirror them. But maybe some of you can’t recall a person because there wasn’t one. Maybe your memory is still raw and painful because there was no one who reached out a hand and helped you to feel included. Hold that memory even closer. You have the power to be that one person who changes the story for someone else.”
Some communities just get it. Isn’t it time yours was one of them?
Lisa Friedman is a widely recognized expert in Jewish Disability Inclusion. She is an Education Director at Temple Beth-El in Central New Jersey, where she has developed and oversees an inclusive synagogue school. She is also the Project Manager of UJA-Federation of New York’s Synagogue Inclusion Project. Lisa consults with congregations, schools, camps and other organizations to guide them in the development of inclusive practices for staff, clergy and families through dialogue, interactive workshops, and awareness training. Lisa is a sought after speaker on a wide variety of topics and blogs about disabilities and inclusion at Removing the Stumbling Block.
[This article originally appeared on Lisa’s blog; reposted with the author’s permission.]