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Jewish camps receive accessibility grants
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Jewish camps receive accessibility grants

The Reform movement’s URJ Camp Harlam is making two cabins ADA accessible with grant money from the Yashar Initiative. Courtesy URJ Harlam
The Reform movement’s URJ Camp Harlam is making two cabins ADA accessible with grant money from the Yashar Initiative. Courtesy URJ Harlam

TWO NEW JERSEY JCC day camps and URJ Camp Harlam in the Poconos are among 16 Jewish day and overnight camps that have received grants to improve accessibility. The grants are the first part of a $12 million undertaking known as the Yashar Initiative funded by The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation through the Foundation for Jewish
Camp (FJC).

The grant enables camps to make capital improvements to increase accessibility for campers and staff with disabilities. This first cohort has been granted a combined $2.5 million to implement upgrades such as physical renovations to facilities, building sensory rooms and ADA-compliant playgrounds, and funding professional development, staff training, research, and evaluation.

Each of the 16 camps were selected for their commitment to expanding accessibility for campers and staff with disabilities, according to a statement from the Foundation for Jewish Camp.

Each grant recipient has committed to increasing their numbers of campers with disabilities to at least 5 percent of the total camper population.

“Our grantees, all of whom had begun the process for broader inclusion independently, will now be able to complete their visions for improving the accessibility of their camps,” said Rebecca Kahn, director of field expansion at FJC. “They will lead the way in modeling accessibility and inclusion at Jewish camp, and inspire other Jewish communal institutions to evaluate how they can better welcome Jewish people with disabilities.”

JCC Camp Ruach in Bridgewater will be using funds to complete an ADA-accessible splash park designed to accommodate the needs of children and adults with cognitive and physical disabilities. “We are thrilled and honored to receive this grant, which will enable us to expand on our inclusion initiatives so that we can better serve all children in our community,” said Alanna Steinberg, director of JCC Camp Ruach.

Courtesy URJ Harlam

JCC Camp Yachad, affiliated with the JCC of Central NJ in Scotch Plains, will upgrade facilities (including bathrooms) and add concrete pathways to make the 2.5-acre campsite more accessible to those campers and staff with mobility challenges.

“As a camp and an agency, we are committed to inclusion so these kinds of improvements are always a priority for us,” said Mallory Zipkin, Camp Yachad director, staff liaison to the JCC Special Needs Committee, and a member of a local Inter-Agency Special Needs Committee. “We will be adding additional walkways around our campsite to make it more accessible and expanding our changing room facility — two upgrades that we’ve been dreaming about. Now they can be a reality.”

URJ Camp Harlam, located in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, plans to renovate two cabins to be ADA accessible, and to increase the staff-to-camper ratio in these cabins to support camper needs. “We have been on a meaningful journey at Harlam in recent years to be truly open and safe for campers and staff, reflecting Reform Movement values like audacious hospitality,” said Aaron Selkow, executive director of URJ Camp Harlam. “We have invested substantially in education, communication, training, and development, but it’s opportunities like this that inject needed capital resources and recognition in ways that truly make a difference. More accessibility in residential cabins plays perfectly into our camp’s commitment to more accessibility everywhere.”

Other camps receiving the grants are Beber Camp in Wisconsin, B’nai Brith Camp in Oregon, Camp Keff in California, Camp Ramah in California, Camp Ramah in the Poconos, Camp Simcha in New York, Camp Solomon Schechter in Washington, Camp Tawonga in California, JCC Camp Chi in Wisconsin, JCC Camp Z Frank Apachi in Illinois, Mid Island Y JCC Camp in New York, Ramah Darom in Georgia, and Ramah Day Camp in New York.

The Yashar Initiative will accept applications this fall, and again in the fall of 2020.

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