Camp Counselor Quandary

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Dear Rivkie,

 I am a teenage girl and I applied to work as a counselor at a camp that has an inclusion program. At this camp, neurotypical kids as well as kids with neurological differences or disorders like Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, and Tourette syndrome live together and do activities together. My job would be as a counselor in a bunk with both “types” of children, and I am anxious about working with the kids who may require more attention. What if I get into situations I’m not prepared for? What if I have trouble relating to them, or they don’t like me? Basically, what if I’m a massive failure?

 

Should I withdraw my application if I’m freaking out, or if I get accepted should I go for it?

 

Signed,

 Wannabe Counselor Callie

Dear Callie,

 I totally admire you for even contemplating a challenging summer job at your age. When I was a teenager, my biggest summer challenge was whether to get a Coke or Fanta Cherry Slurpee.

But also in my day, we didn’t have such a culture of inclusion. I think camps with inclusion programs are wonderful for the kids who go as campers, but it can be just as rewarding if not more so for the kids working there.

One of the wisest teenagers I know worked at a Jewish inclusion camp last summer. When I got your question in my inbox, I immediately emailed her, and this is what she said:

“I would say that before I started working in camp this summer, I was definitely nervous about being responsible for neurodiverse kids but it ended up being my favorite summer ever, and I would recommend it to anyone.

These girls struggle all year round with fitting in. Whether they go to mainstream schools or not, most of them are aware that they’re different. But when it comes to camp, they’re a camper just like the next girl. As a counselor, your job is to give every single camper the best summer they can have. When times were hard in camp, there was always a team of people ready to lend a hand, and everyone is there to help.

By the end of the summer, my campers and I had the most special bond, and I’m still in touch with most of them six months later. Yes, I would say that sometimes it was hard, but so worth it. First of all, the experience teaches you so many important lessons on kindness and acceptance. Second, it fosters a sense of purpose and appreciation. Finally, there will always be people to help you. You’re not alone and you’re not responsible on your own, everyone gets it, and everyone wants to make it as easy and fun as possible for you and your campers.”

In this day and age, at least in my community — based on the two full pages of Jewish camps for kids with disabilities on the local Federation’s website — kids expect that neurodiverse kids and kids with disabilities will be part of their lives. It is definitely a new day for disability awareness, certainly much different from when I grew up. And hooray for that! Kindness is a vital skill for all of us, whether we work at camp or not. Hashem created us all b’tzelem elokim, in His image. Remembering this is something we should do daily.

Girl, take a leap of faith; if you’re accepted to the camp as a counselor, go for it. I have a feeling that a thoughtful girl like you will gain a lot from a summer experience like this, and your campers will gain a lot from having you in their lives. Good luck!

 All the best,

 Rivkie