Inclusion Means Belonging

Inclusion Means Belonging

by Kate Falls, Inclusion Director, Bender JCC | January 2024

What does it mean for our community to be inclusive? Inclusion goes beyond programs or platitudes and is bigger than any one person.

Inclusion is belonging, the feeling of being welcomed, valued, and needed by our community. Regardless of ability, each of us should feel that our community accepts us “as we are,” and for “who we are.” All members — including people with disabilities — deserve to feel equally at home at the Bender JCC.

Simply bringing people together does not guarantee an enduring community. Likewise, shared interests do not ensure genuine friendships. Inclusion is our glue, the foundational principle which connects us.

The Bender JCC will always be a welcoming place where people of all abilities, backgrounds, identities, and religions can pop-in for a workout in our fitness center or swim laps in our pools. But those who seek to belong to something greater than themselves will get the most out of their community. We don’t just offer activities, classes, and services; our vision is that these shared experiences connect us to people who genuinely care.

A commitment to care is why Health and Fitness Director Mike Holmes notices when regulars have been absent from the gym. If you’ve ever received a “check-in” call from Mike, you know it is because he genuinely cares for each member of our wellness community. Inclusion requires big, bold actions like designing new programs for underserved populations and ensuring that every part of our campus is physically accessible.

Perhaps more importantly, our culture of inclusion takes root through small gestures and interactions, like our fitness staff modifying a workout for a longtime client whose physical needs have changed. Our inclusive mindset transcends age and life stage, like when our youngest friends in the Bender Early Childhood Center (Bender ECC) empathetically discuss and celebrate their differences. Interacting with those different from us can be uncomfortable at any age, so our culture of inclusion gives us the grace and safety to try.

Inclusion is not a switch we turn on and off but a dial we hone, a practice we must commit to daily. While the Bender JCC’s legacy of inclusion spans decades, in many ways, we have only just begun our work. Programmatically, our community is best known for Lessans Camp JCC’s summer program. But camp is just the start. As a community, we can do more to expand our culture of inclusion beyond seven weeks in the summer to a 365-day-a-year commitment where inclusion permeates every facet of the Bender JCC.

Our staff has launched a three-year plan to expand inclusion at the Bender JCC and build the community everyone deserves. We invite you to take this journey with us to help create an inclusive community. The work is never complete; there will always be needs to address. The work of inclusion belongs to all of us and benefits everyone, not only people with disabilities.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the Winter 2024 Program Guide.