IMG_0128 By Howard Blas, National Ramah Tikvah Network Director

One of the most wonderful parts of my work is the chance to visit special needs programs at several of our Ramah camps.  Last week I arrived at Rhinelander airport to rain and fog and was greeted by the warm smile of longtime friend and colleague, Ralph Schwartz, the Director of Special Needs Programming at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin.  In the 1970’s and 1980’s, Ralph and I had the honor and privilege of working with and learning from Tikvah founders Herb and Barbara Greenberg.  Until now, we have shared and consulted with each other by phone and in person, but this was my first opportunity to see Tikvah and Atzmayim in action at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin.

On Monday morning, I davened with Atzmayim and was impressed with how they took ownership for running the entire service.  I spent Monday and Tuesday mornings meeting employers and observing Atzmayim participants at their job sites.  The relationship between supervisors and workers is amazing —and some use their camp experience to go on to meaningful employment in their home communities.

What a treat to observe Tikvah, Atzmayim and the inclusive camp programming. I witnessed an impressive simulation by Machon, Bogrim, and Tikvah of some early moments in Israel’s history, I participated in social skills groups and enjoyed a great barbeque.   I met Omer, a former Tikvah and Atzmayim participant who is employed in his home community, and back in camp for a few days to teach about his experience.  A very special treat was a late night meeting with Tikvah and Atzmayim staff—still going strong after 11 pm at night!  So nice to hear their experiences and share happenings of Tikvah in all of our camps.  Learning about the National Ramah Tikvah Network put their work in a larger context.

I leave Wisconsin with stories and experiences to bring with me on the rest of my “Tour de Tikvah.”  Next stops?  New England, Darom and Poconos!