Celebrating Jewish Disability Awareness & Inclusion Month All Year, Every Year, at the LFJCC

The sun seemed to shine a little brighter, and the birds sang just a little sweeter, that magic morning of June 20, our first day of Camp Jaycee 2020 at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center in San Diego, California. We as staff had only been back to working with each other in-person for a few weeks, and were all still adjusting to the “abnormal new normal” of wearing masks and greeting friends both old and new with a fist bump or wave versus a handshake or hug. A buzz of anticipation sparked the air as campers started to arrive, everyone visibly excited to simply be able to be out and about as they began their summer at Camp Jaycee, following so many dreary months of solitude and fears of having to cancel their summer camp plans altogether. Campers began to join their pods (groups of 12 campers or less, with 2 to 3 designated staff members who would be with them the entire day), met their new friends, did a round of hand washing and sanitizing, and finally, almost as if it were any other summer, camp began, and we were all off to the races! For many of our staff and administrators, beginning camp in the middle of a frightful pandemic stirred a mental cacophony of extra worries and stressors, but within the first hours of camp many of our fears were assuaged, especially as we saw how quickly the campers were adjusting to what camp this year was going to look like. For me personally, one of the most rewarding experiences of summer 2020 was observing the remarkably quick and easy adjustment back into in-person activities which was made by so many of our campers. For those few who did struggle with conforming to the new regulations, watching them work with staff and use the necessary supports to find ways to not only participate in the summer but thrive in the camp environment proved especially satisfying. Our incredible camp staff and inclusion support team really did go above and beyond this summer to make 2020 one for the record books.

For 75 years now, Camp Jaycee has served the San Diego community by providing a broad range of day camping options, spanning from sports to theater, traditional to specialty camps, and everything in between, while simultaneously cultivating a rich environment which at is the core of the Jewish day camping experience. We embrace the 7 Jewish lenses in our daily camp experience, with lenses such as Masa (Journey — Reflection, Return, and Renewal) and Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) being integral ideals we strive to achieve in our daily life here at camp. We instill in our camp community that they are co-creators of their own day-to-day experiences here at camp, as well as the greater San Diego community, and always allow them time to reflect on their own individual journeys during their time with us here at camp, while empowering them to think of ways to leave the world a better place than they found it.

One of the most incredible parts of Camp Jaycee and the LFJCC as a whole is our continued commitment to providing a fully inclusive and equitable environment for each and every camper each and every day. We embrace the lens of B’Tzelem Elokim (In the Divine Image -Dignity and Potential) and ensure that every child we serve at camp is able to receive the services and support they need to thrive and grow to their fullest potential while in our care, no matter what that may look like. One of the reasons we are able to be so successful in this mission is the fact that every staff member who works at Camp Jaycee is responsible for this inclusive environment, not just the select few inclusion support staff. Inclusion and equitable experiences are truly the air we breathe and the life blood that pumps us up every day here at Camp Jaycee. We focus on this concept not just during orientation training, but provide ongoing inclusion training and support throughout the entire summer, insuring that each child is able to receive whatever services and support he or she may need to succeed.

Here at the LFJCC and Camp Jaycee, inclusion isn’t simply a program or service which we provide, but a staple of our camp culture . Inclusion is taken into account in each and every aspect of every program that occurs every day. Our organization has a proud and rich inclusion history, beginning 26 years ago with the inception of the inclusion program and spanning through our present programs and beyond. This year, we are thrilled to be expanding our inclusive facilities beyond our wildest dreams as the recipients of the Yashar Grant through the Foundation for Jewish Camping. This marvelous grant will allow us to begin construction on San Diego’s first inclusive playground, which will be housed here on the grounds of the LFJCC. This totally unique facility will enable us to offer an accessible and sensory-enriching play experience for children and adults alike who may not be able to have this experience anywhere else in San Diego.

Summer of 2020 was certainly a unique 11 weeks, totally outside the experience of anything that we here at camp (or truly anyone in the world) has encountered before. But among the many takeaways from that remarkable summer was the knowledge that, with flexibility, teamwork, and an unwavering dedication to providing an inclusive and welcoming camp experience, we here at Camp Jaycee can truly thrive in any circumstance. It could have been easy to say “No, we can’t…” but that is not a phrase we allow ourselves to utter here at the LFJCC. So we strapped on our masks, kept our distance, loaded up on hand sanitizer, and continued forward with our inclusive vision and response of “Yes, we can.” In turn, Summer 2020- the most challenging three months any of us had ever experienced-proved an unforgettable and magical experience for everyone who wished to be a part of our family at Camp Jaycee.

Wendy Smith is the Inclusion Manager for the Lawrence Family Community Center. She has an MA in Psychology and has worked in the Special Needs field for the last 15 years, 4 of which have been with LFJCC/Camp Jaycee. She is a certified Autism Specialist and specializes in Behavior Modification.

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Connecting San Diego to Jewish heritage, identity, experiences, and values to ensure the continuity and vibrancy of the Jewish community.

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