After years of welcoming all campers through their own accommodation plans, Camp B’nai Brith of Ottawa has formalized the process to welcome children of all abilities to camp.
“This is a new initiative with steps that we’re taking to be able to serve everyone, expanding our mission even further,” said Cindy Presser Benedek, camp director.
“We had already been facilitating accommodations for campers prior to this. When we started having these conversations with experts in the area to make sure we were doing it properly, we came to this point where we were like ‘Oh we’re actually already doing this.’”
There were perhaps half a dozen kids on some kind of accommodation plan that CBB and parents put together, but now the process will be formalized, with supported frameworks from experts for both the camp families, the campers and the staff.
“Our only goal is for every child to be successful in their own right — not just what camp deems as successful, but being able to be in an environment with other kids, and being able to meet their needs so they can be part of the group, and also grow as humans between Day 1 and whatever day they leave on,” said Presser Benedeck. “We recognize that certain kids need some extra support to make that happen.”
Associate director Jill Doctor called formalizing the process to accommodate all campers a “celebration.”
“It’s exciting to be able to say we officially do this,” she said. “The importance of this is that it’s not just about including and supporting these kids, but about breaking down the social barriers of what inclusion means. It’s one thing to open the gates, but now we take it to the next level.”
Doctor says the more inclusion is talked about, the more it’s made official, the more places like CBB can chip away at any stigma that might exist.
“It’s changing the way the community thinks about inclusion,” she said. “Hopefully by making this ‘the norm,’ it can become every day. Everyone comes to the table with a different personality.”
Doctor reached out to a number of members of the community, including parents of kids with different needs, to talk about inclusion.
“We’re all in this together, we’re all learning,” she said. “As long as everyone can have an open mind, everyone should be treated with respect.”
CBB has developed a new onboarding and registration process. Though this year, their accommodations program launched late (camp registration normally opens in the fall), they recognize 2022 as a pilot project.
“We acknowledge we don’t have all the answers, it’s constantly evolving and we are learning as we go with every family we have conversations with. We’re adapting,” said Doctor.
There’s a very basic camp application that will be updated to include requests and details about any accommodations that might be needed. Then, Doctor chats with the family before passing their information on to the camp’s inclusion coordinator. With that person’s help, the family fills out a detailed questionnaire and then the inclusion coordinator makes an assessment on how to “set the child up for success.”
So far, community feedback has been extremely positive.
“We hear a lot of ‘thank yous’ and ‘it’s about time’,” said Doctor. “When we sent out that email to our current families about this, we got so many families that this didn’t affect or apply to, but who said they were so proud to be part of the CBB family and to be associated with us.