Building Ramps… Not Stairs

If you told me that when I graduated with a degree in social work, that I would be working in the camp field, specifically at an inclusive camp, I would never have believed you.

Hi! My name is Lauren, and I work as Camp Achva’s Inclusion and Belonging Coordinator. My role has two interrelated sides – firstly, by implementing supports for the mental, emotional, social and spiritual health of every camper, staff member, and family that is a part of the Camp Achva community, and secondly, by intentionally creating a safe environment for everyone to be their most authentic self.

I bring to this work a personal perspective on sticking out, the challenges of finding spaces I belong in, and contributing to causes bigger than myself, because, like so many in our community, I am neurodiverse.

Summer camp was my place to just be…me. To show up, and be welcomed fully for who I am, not what I could or could not do. It was a space for me to move away from a diagnosis and be seen for more than my ability level.

I am so grateful that I am in a role where I get to actively help create that space for another generation of campers & staff. It is through working hand in hand with the families and individuals that I, and the Camp Achva team, serve together to create individual success plans – at Camp Achva we believe in people over programming and connection before content. We live that ideal by adjusting our entire program for the one, to better the whole – which is inspired by a training opportunity our team was a part of that talked about their belief in building a ramp instead of stairs. Everyone can use a ramp, whereas only some can use the stairs. There has been a lot of exciting work from the Camp Achva team as we prepare for our best summer yet!

In a practical example of this work, our team has been discussing the length of our activities and how time affects learning outcomes and skill development. Our team has been discussing whether we should move from 30-minute activities to 35- or 40-minute activities. We are looking to adequately balance the need for an activity time length that holds camper and staff’s attention for duration and the number of activities everyone experiences in a day, with giving enough time to build skills and explicitly engage in conversations about what campers are learning. We see benefits of both and are continuing to weigh the pros and cons of each side.

We are working to improve our lunch programming as well – this is a time our campers and staff have given us feedback about, and so we are examining how to make lunch more like a ramp than the stairs it currently feels like to many. Lunch can be overwhelming! To some of our community, lunch feels loud, unstructured, and socially uncomfortable. To others, they feel perfectly in place, with lunch feeling structured and comforting. Our team is working on providing a structure that meets everyone’s needs with ideas from – camp trivia to weather reports, conversation starters to jokes, riddles, and word puzzles.

I am excited to continue these discussions and many others I get to be a part of through my work as the Inclusion & Belonging Coordinator of Camp Achva. I am so grateful for the work that I do. In this past year working with Camp Achva and for the Pozez JCC, I have learned that inclusion is not a choice, it is a lifestyle. I am working to make all the spaces that I am a part of inclusive.

While written in a different context, a quote that I have come to appreciate, rely on, and sums up my inclusion and belonging work is from Ijeoma Oluo: “every time you go through something, and it’s easy for you, look around and say ‘Who is this not easy for? And what can I do to dismantle that system?’”