23 February 2021
A reflection by Lisa Handelman, Director of Capital Camps
In late spring 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, Capital Camps received several emails from parents who shared that there were many tears shed at their homes when COVID-19 forced Capital Camps to cancel traditional overnight camp. After we started offering virtual programing, at least one email again mentioned tears, but this time they were tears of joy: “I know making calls to every parent is time-consuming— and there is nothing short or easy about a call to a mom of a special needs kid—but [virtual programming] meant the world to our family because now (our son) is engaging with his once and future bunkmates.”
From its inception, Capital Camps has been committed to be the community’s ‘camp for all’—a camp where children with special needs can participate in all activities and be fully mainstreamed in the general population, ensuring the experience of a life-changing Jewish camp experience.
This commitment didn’t waver when the COVID-19 pandemic forced us to close. We pivoted to create virtual camp programing by utilizing Zoom to gather our staff and created Cabins@Capital to provide opportunities for family groups to be at camp in a socially distant and safe manner. In all of these endeavors, individuals with disabilities were included because this is just what we do at Capital Camps.
Although camp was physically closed, we stayed connected.
Hannah, our Atzma’im (Inclusion) coordinator, made sure her campers were part of our virtual family by reaching out to all families and staff with disabilities, and by joining virtual staff meetings and leading programs.
Counselor and former camper, Lily, led a virtual program focused on living with a disability and sharing stories about “crazy things” she’d done as a camper. Her program made all the fun and silliness of camp come alive! Campers asked Lily a range of thoughtful and funny questions, and the session also provided a safe space for one camper to share about her own disability and for another to introduce a sibling with a disability to the group.
We heard from campers with and without disabilities that they “had a GREAT time” on many of our virtual programs. One parent’s email summed it up best, “My daughter misses camp so much and has enjoyed the opportunity to participate in the virtual programming! She can’t wait for next summer to be back at camp with her friends!”
To learn more about camp 2021, visit capitalcamps.org