Yachad Summer Programming
Yachad, The National Jewish Council for Disabilities (NJCD), a not-for-profit organization that promotes and facilitates inclusion throughout the broad Jewish community, is dedicated to enhancing the lives of individuals with disabilities through unique and dynamic inclusive programming. As one strategy for promoting inclusion, Yachad provides unique and inclusive sleepaway camp experiences. Our participants have the support of trained, highly motivated staff and the opportunity to sleep in a bunkhouse with typically developing peers their own age. Each day, participants engage in camp activities with other bunks and campers. Together, they enjoy activities such as swimming, boating, sports, arts & crafts, drama, learning, and more. Because they have the support that they require, our participants form special friendships within the bunk and, more importantly, throughout the camp. It is a classic camp experience, one filled with warmth, care, and a focus on the development of social skills, friendship, self-esteem and independence within a safe and secure environment.
What is the mission and purpose of this program?
For people with disabilities, becoming friends and socializing with peers can be an insurmountable challenge; this heartbreaking reality is what Yachad seeks to change. Yachad summer programs are available for virtually all individuals with special needs, providing these individuals with an immersive social summer experience. Additionally, we work tirelessly with mainstream camps to provide an inclusive experience for our campers and to facilitate a meaningful understanding of individuals with special needs by the mainstream campers. Prior to Yachad’s involvement, individuals with disabilities did not have the same opportunities to attend summer camps. Now, however, these individuals are given the opportunity to contribute to and become a part of mainstream camps just like everybody else. Whether in an individual bunk or integrated into a mainstreamed one, Yachad individuals are a part of the larger camp community at all of the camps that we work with. Our participants are welcomed with open arms each and every summer.
Yachad/NJCD’s slogan is “Because Everyone Belongs”. We believe this ideal of unconditional inclusivity is important in every aspect of life, including a recreational sleepaway camp experience. If not for Yachad’s inclusive programing style, children and teenagers with disabilities would not have the opportunity to engage with mainstream peers because most camps do not have the proper resources to support their needs. Sleepaway camp offers children an opportunity to grow, become independent and build long lasting friendships. It gives children a positive sense of self-identity, increases social skills and enables friendships to be made, provides adventure and exploration in the realm of spirituality, and enforces a positive connection to religious traditions. Without Yachad’s involvement, individuals with special needs would not have the experience of sleeping in their own bunkhouse, yet still be able to partake in social and recreational activities with mainstreamed individuals their own age. Likewise, typically developing individuals benefit greatly by being exposed to individuals with disabilities, as these encounters increase their understanding of diversity and broaden their perspective.
Furthermore, Yachad participants’ going away to camp their families affords their families a break from the fatiguing daily experience of raising an individual with special needs. Additionally, parents and families are given the ability to dedicate extra attention to their other children, as well as to fulfill tasks for themselves that they otherwise could not.
The existence and prevalence of this need is attested to by our interactions with and assessments of the many individuals with disabilities with whom we have had the privilege of coming in contact over the years.
Yachad’s summer programs first started in 1988 with one program that hosted 13 individuals with disabilities. Since then, countless programs have been created and tailored to meet the needs of as many individuals as possible, ranging from different religious backgrounds to different physical and social needs, all over the United States and Canada. This past summer, Yachad’s summer programs were able to accommodate and support 421 participants with special needs across 17 sleepaway camps.
How do you measure the success of your program?
We measure our level of success by the amount of people who, time and time again, decide to work and/or participate in our vast amount of programming. To be more specific, our diverse services include, but are not limited to: social programming for all age groups; counseling services for individuals and families; weekend retreats; extensive parent support services; sibling services; vocational training and job placement; professional advocates and case managers; summer camps for members of all ages; special needs yeshivas; shabbat programs; Day Habilitation programs; Israel Birthright trips for persons with mobility and/or special learning needs; social skills development; lobbying for pro-disability legislation on the local, state, and federal levels; high school and university leadership program. Every single one of the aforementioned programs has been progressively growing in size, while concurrently improving in quality.