The nationally-recognized Camp JCC inclusion program has afforded campers with special needs the opportunity for a fun and fulfilling summer camp experience alongside their typically-developing siblings and friends.
The program also has a profound impact on counselors and typically-developing campers, who learn acceptance, tolerance and sensitivity. As a result, Camp JCC changes attitudes toward inclusion that extend far beyond the walls of our building.
In this article, Torie Atkin and Marc Silverman reflect on their experiences as counselors in the Camp JCC inclusion program.
Torie Atkin: “As I walked into Eva’s [Eva Cowen, director of Kochavim, Camp JCC’s transitional program for teens and young adults with a wide range of disabilities] office four years ago for my camp interview, I had no idea how much it would change my life. When I applied, the only jobs left were working in the inclusion program with teens with disabilities. I had no experience but said that I was willing to learn and try my best. That was good enough for Eva.
As I went through my first day, I was surprised at how easy it was to connect with the campers. They liked movies and sports and cheesy jokes and before I knew it, coming to work felt more like hanging out with my friends than a job. I came home every day with stories about my campers, like how one camper jumped on stage to teach a Zumba dance and how another taught me to speak a different language. I fell deeper and deeper in love with the campers.
That isn’t to say that my job isn’t hard at times. There have been countless times where I have felt frustrated, confused and even sad at camp. But one of the best things about our program is that you are surrounded by other counselors who can step in and help you, so you are never facing anything alone.
After that first summer, I became addicted to camp and to working with people with disabilities. It has changed my life. I started college as a journalism major but after my first summer at camp, I changed my major to exercise science so that I could become an occupational therapist and work with people with disabilities for the rest of my life.”
Marc Silverman: “I started working at Camp JCC in 1993. I have cerebral palsy and wanted to work with children with special needs. My second summer, I was a counselor-in-training with a small group of children who would eventually become part of the inclusion program the following year. From 1995-2001, I was a counselor for the teen program, which served adolescents with special needs from the ages of 14-21.
The campers with whom I worked had a diverse range of developmental disabilities. Some had autism, as well as hearing and visual impairments. For several summers, I was a one-to-one counselor for an adolescent who was legally blind and had a developmental disability.
I worked with Eva Cowen and Sara Milner [former Camp JCC director]. Their support was the best. If there was a challenge or difficulty, I always felt comfortable confiding in my colleagues and superiors. Eva and Sara provided thorough and excellent training.
Working at Camp JCC as a special needs counselor definitely influenced my career choice, helping to solidify my goal of wanting to help people. I loved working with both campers and the staff. It truly was a warm and nurturing atmosphere, one that I remember with great fondness.
I graduated from the University of Hartford in 2001 with a major in sociology and a minor in human services. I attended Columbia University School of Social Work, graduating in 2003 with a master’s degree. I am a licensed clinical social worker, working in the field of domestic violence in a high school setting.
The Camp JCC special needs and inclusion program is an excellent program. It allows campers with special needs to be part of a larger community. It was a great thrill to see my campers year after year and watch their progress. My heart is always with the program and the campers.”
For more information about the Camp JCC special needs and inclusion program, please contact Camp JCC Director Phil Liebson at 301.348.3880 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dinner of Champions, the Bender JCC’s annual fundraiser for the Camp JCC special needs and inclusion program, will be held on Saturday, November 18. For details, please visit benderjccgw.org/champions.
Having the Courage to Start
“If you had asked me 10 years ago if I would become a running coach in my retirement, I would have said that you are crazy!”— Karen Craney
An instructor in the Bender JCC’s Couch to 5K program, Karen Craney, 61, started running 14 years ago. She has since completed all major running distances—5K, 10K, 10 mile, half marathon and marathon—and has participated in overnight running relays such as the Ragnar Relay (having recently completed one in Niagara Falls, Canada). Karen finds that the running community is comprised of supportive and wonderful individuals. “I am proud to be a part of this community.”
A New Jersey native, Karen is retired from Montgomery County Public Schools after 33 years as a special education teacher and then a pupil personnel worker. Keeping active in retirement, Karen’s hobbies include running, walking, hiking, rollerblading and biking. She also loves to travel. “Every year I take a biking trip to Italy, visiting a different region of the country. My most recent trip was a hiking/wine tasting/safari in South Africa.”
Upon retiring, Karen became a nationally-certified running coach. She is a member/volunteer of Montgomery County Road Runners Club and the race director of Run Under Lights 5K, which takes place every November in Seneca Creek Park, Gaithersburg.
In the spring of 2016, Karen began teaching the Couch to 5K program at the Bender JCC. It was repeated in the summer of 2016 along with a “next step” component for runners who had completed the Couch to 5K program. “A number of runners from that first next-step program have gone on to running longer distances such as 10K, 10 miles and even a half marathon, which has been very exciting!”
Sue Winarsky, a runner who has been in Karen’s programs for a few years, remains impressed that Karen is knowledgeable and invested in ensuring that all her participants have a good experience, regardless of their starting fitness level. “Karen works with each runner to help them reach their personal goal. She promotes camaraderie and works to bring out the best in those who participate in her programs. And, she makes it fun!”
Karen says that it is a thrill to see people do something that they never thought they would be able to do—complete a 5K run. The program starts off with walk/run ratio intervals (3 minutes walking, 1 minute running) and slowly progresses to the point where participants are doing more running than walking and eventually, all running.
“The program is so gradual and supportive that it surprises people who often approach it with apprehension and anxiety. They discover that they actually can run a 5K,” Karen remarks.
The program has an educational component, addressing topics such as running gear, nutrition, hydration and injury prevention.
“My coaching experience has included 5K, 10K, 10-mile, half-marathon and full-marathon programs, but my heart lies with the Couch to 5K program and seeing people become runners,” Karen reflects.
For individuals who are thinking about taking a beginning running program, Karen advises, “Just do it! You will be surprised at how much it will change your life.”
Karen’s favorite quote is by John Bingham, a nationally-known running coach: “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”
Are you interested in running in the JCADA (Jewish Coalition against Domestic Abuse) 5K on October 22? Then now is the time to sign up for Couch to 5K!
How camp changes counselors (too)
With Camp JCC in full swing, we reflect on the profound effect our nationally-recognized Camp JCC inclusion program has on campers with disabilities by offering them the opportunity for a fun and fulfilling summer camp experience alongside their typically-developing siblings and friends. The program also has a strong impact on counselors and typically-developing campers, who learn acceptance, tolerance and sensitivity.
Marc Silverman, a licensed clinical social worker, was a Camp JCC counselor from 1993 through 2001. He has cerebral palsy and wanted to work with children with disabilities. The campers with whom he worked had a wide range of developmental abilities. Some had autism, as well as hearing and visual impairments. For several summers, he was a one-to-one counselor for an adolescent who was legally blind and had a developmental disability.
Marc says that the Camp JCC inclusion program is an excellent program that allows campers with disabilities, who might otherwise be isolated, to be part of a larger community.
“Working at Camp JCC as a counselor for children with disabilities definitely influenced my career choice,” Marc asserts, saying that it helped solidify his goal of wanting to help people. He graduated from the University of Hartford in 2001 with a major in sociology and a minor in human services. He then attended Columbia University School of Social Work, graduating in 2003 with a master’s degree. Marc currently works in the field of domestic violence in a high school setting.
Camp JCC changes attitudes toward inclusion that extend far beyond the walls of our building. The support of our generous donors helps to make that happen.
Meet Jeanette Greenberg
Jeanette Greenberg looks forward to every Tuesday at the Bender JCC when she sings and plays piano in the senior adult chorus.
“It feels very comfortable when I am with people who also enjoy singing,” says Jeanette. “It’s a very sociable thing to do.”
Scholarships can be the determining factor for participation at the Bender JCC. 132 seniors, like Jeanette, receive financial assistance so they can a part of our community and participate in the many activities here.
Joanie Steinberg is a participant in the hybrid fitness class — a mix of strength, yoga, Pilates and balance work-geared toward improving flexibility and enhancing state of mind for those with Parkinson’s.
Among the many fitness programs offered by the Bender JCC are classes like hybrid fitness for the Parkinson’s community. Held in partnership with MedStar Georgetown University Hospital as part of The Edmond J. Safra National Parkinson’s Wellness Initiative of the National Parkinson Foundation, the program is designed to improve the lives of those impacted by Parkinson’s disease through fitness, support, education and socialization.
“The people running the program and the instructors are extremely dedicated and interested in making it a successful and helpful experience for all involved,” Joanie states. “I think it’s awesome that the Bender JCC offers this program to the community.”
Dawn Hubbard-Powell, Health & Fitness Director. says that our Parkinson’s Wellness Initiative classes are highly valued by those we serve. ”The chance to connect with others who are going through similar experiences helps our participants realize that they are not alone. They show us that it is possible to thrive with Parkinson’s. It’s inspiring to be a part of this initiative!”
This story is one of many examples of how the Bender JCC provides a warm and welcoming place for those of all abilities, and is committed to improving the quality of life for all.
The Jauss Family
Lindsay and Fred Jauss joined the Bender JCC when their older son. now 7, was 2 years old and they were looking for a preschool.
“The biggest selling point for us is how loved and safe our children feel in the community. The JCC is a truly inclusive and welcoming place for a diverse population. The teaching staff is second to none.”
As an interfaith couple [Lindsay isJewish and Fred is Catholic]. Lindsay says that they appreciate how the preschool weaves Judaism into the everyday.
“Children are taught the foundations of Judaism- kindness. caring…things we all can strive for. The tone and language used by the staff focus on inclusiveness for all sorts of families.”
This story is one of many examples of how your support enriches lives and enables us to embrace and welcome the diversity of our community. There’s something about this place.
“Just because I’m blind doesn’t mean I can’t see what’s important,” says Lee Greenwald, 91, a regular participant in Bender JCC’s senior adult programs.
A Bethesda resident, Lee used to take public transportation to the Bender JCC. Now that it’s harder for her to get around due to her vision impairment, she appreciates the specialized “door-through-door” transportation service funded by Bender JCC that enables her to attend activities here twice a week.
Lee enjoys all aspects of the Bender JCC’s senior adult program, from chair exercise to a delicious hot kosher lunch to entertainment by talented performers. She’s also thinking about taking a ceramics class here. For Lee, it’s really about getting out of the house and meeting new people.
This story is one of many examples of how your support enriches lives.
Zac Tolin claims that he has shot more baskets in the Bender JCC’s gym than anyone else.
“Let’s see…100 baskets a day x five days a week x 52 weeks a year x 44 years = 1,144,000 baskets.”
Zac is part of a four generation family that calls the Center a second home. From his grandfather participating in Bender JCC programs when he lived at the Hebrew Home to his parents standing at the grand opening ceremony in 1969 to meeting his wife while working out in the fitness center in 1993, and now his kids regularly taking part in classes, Camp JCC, swimming and much more.
Zac’s story is one of many examples of how your support enables us to be a place of celebrations, connections, education, friendships and healthy bodies…for life.
For Ali Levingston, becoming a parent for the first time was an exhilarating experience. It was also overwhelming, which is why it is often helpful to have other new parents with whom to celebrate and – occasionally – commiserate. The Bender JCC’s Bender-Dosik Parenting Center is proud to serve as a catalyst for so many young families in our community to form lifelong connections, offering experiences to grow as Jewish parents. Ali found her community here three years ago when she formed close and lasting friendships with several other moms.
“I am grateful to the Bender JCC for bringing us all together. When we were first-time moms, it was so important to have other mothers to share experiences with and offer support, advice and humor.”
This story is one of many examples of how your support enables us to be a place of celebrations, connections, education, friendships and healthy bodies….for life.
Chiara Jaffe, and son, Jake
“My 8-year-old son, Jake, has Down syndrome and requires additional support to address his special needs. Jake has limited opportunities for interactions with typical peers during the school day.
That all changes after school when Jake attends Kids After School (KAS) at the Bender JCC. Here, Jake is fully included in all activities thanks to his amazing counselors, and the wonderful director of special needs and inclusion who keeps on top of anything going on in his life that may impact his after-school experience. All of the counselors, not only Jake’s assigned ones, go out of their way to get to know Jake and to promote interactions between him and his typical peers.
When I pick Jake up from the Bender JCC in the evenings, he has a huge smile on his face. As we say goodbye and I help him into the car, I say to myself, ‘I love this place.’” ─Chiara Jaffe