April 8, 2019 – In an unprecedented national push for inclusion, 16 Jewish day and overnight camps have received grants through the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) in the first phase of the $12M Yashar Initiative. Funded by The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, this innovative grant enables Jewish day and overnight camps to make important capital improvements to increase accessibility for campers and staff with disabilities. This first cohort has been granted a combined $2.5M to implement exciting upgrades – such as physical renovations to facilities, building sensory rooms, and ADA compliant playgrounds – as well as critical funding for professional development, staff training, research, and evaluation.
Among the first recipients of funding is URJ Camp Harlam, receiving $230,000 in grant funds. Each of the 16 camps were carefully selected for their commitment to expanding accessibility for campers and staff with disabilities, providing even more people with the opportunity to experience Jewish camp. In Harlam’s case, the selection is a nod to the camp’s previous growth and success in addressing inclusion and accessibility on their 300+-acre site. Since 2012, Harlam has embarked on an “Open & Safe” initiative that has helped them to further their community’s facility, program, training, staff, and other resources that include elements of accessibility in almost all of their new renovations and construction. Harlam has spent more than $5M on these projects to date.
According to research conducted by FJC, attending Jewish camp can have a crucial impact on life-long Jewish identity and involvement. A lack of accessibility and inclusion, however, has long been a barrier to the participation of campers and staff with disabilities. In keeping with the goals of the initiative to promote a greater culture of inclusion, each grant recipient has committed to increasing their total campers with disabilities to at least five percent of the total camper population. In Harlam’s case, their prior efforts have already helped them to reach and exceed that target.
At Harlam, the planned capital improvements supported by the grant are to renovate two cabins in their largest residential housing area for female campers in 3rd through 7th grades. Between 2012 and this summer, the camp has now renovated all 12 cabins in this area, and the newest project will ensure that half of those cabins are ADA accessible.
“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,” says Aaron Selkow, Executive Director at 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.”
By participating in this first phase of the Yashar Initiative, camps like Harlam are helping set an example for the entire field, paving the way for a process of national substantive change regarding inclusion in camps across the country. In Harlam’s case, there have already been other steps taken. For example, Harlam created the “Chill Zone” four years ago as a unique multi-sensory space for campers, developed and implemented new signage and communication tools to make its facility and program more universally welcoming, added ADA accessible elements in its Adventure and High Ropes course, grew its year-round professional and seasonal staff teams to include psychologists and social workers, and became the first-ever camp to certify its entire staff in the National Council for Behavioral Health’s Mental Health First Aid for Youth curriculum.
“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,” says 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.”
The Yashar Initiative will open again for applications this fall, and again in the fall of 2020.
About Foundation for Jewish Camp: Jewish camp has proven to be a highly effective vehicle for engaging children, teens, young adults and families in Jewish life. Founded in 1998, Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) is committed to bolstering excellence throughout the Jewish camp field and amplifying their success and impact by catalyzing innovation. Foundation for Jewish Camp works with over 300 day and overnight camps, serving approximately 180,000 campers and counselors across North America, providing professional development opportunities for camp leaders, expanding access to and demand for Jewish camp, enhancing camp’s Jewish impact, leading the field in staff and camper care, and developing programs to strengthen camps across the Jewish spectrum — including its signature One Happy Camper® program, which has enabled tens of thousands of young people to experience Jewish camp for the first time. For more information, please visit www.jewishcamp.org.
About The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation: The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, one of the 50 largest private charitable foundations in the United States, is dedicated to meeting the basic needs of vulnerable people and families experiencing poverty. In 2019, the Foundation will provide approximately $125 million in grants to nonprofits that provide direct services in the areas of Housing, Health, Jobs, Education, and Community Services. The Foundation’s priority communities include Baltimore, Chicago, Hawaii, Israel, New York City, Northeastern Pennsylvania, San Francisco, and Rural Communities (primarily surrounding other priority communities). The Foundation’s trustees include Robert T. Kelly, Jr., Board Chair; Ambassador Fay Hartog-Levin (Ret.); Paula B. Pretlow; and Gordon Berlin. Rachel Garbow Monroe serves as President and CEO. For more information, please visit www.hjweinbergfoundation.org.