by Jodi Newmark, parent of Danny Newmark, Atzmayim vocational program participant Our son Danny will turn 22 in November, and like so many families who have a young adult with a disability, ours has been dreading the day. After all, it is the fateful day we’ve been warned about, the date that Danny will fall off the cliff.
But our worries have abated, at least for the moment, because of Danny’s experience at Camp Ramah Wisconsin over the past eight weeks. As a participant in the Atzmayim program, Danny, along with twelve other young adults, is officially a counselor at the camp with the privileges and responsibilities that come with that designation. Danny and the others in Atzmayim have access to the counselor lounge that is outfitted with a computer nook, ping pong and pool tables, and perhaps most enticingly, snacks and food before bedtime. He is expected to manage his daily schedule, making time for laundry and self-care, and to get to activities and his job on time.
Yes, he has a job. Danny works at Trig’s, the local grocery store, where over the past three summers, he has had various responsibilities from packaging in the bakery to facing shelves, and this year bagging groceries. Working in various parts of the store has provided the opportunity to work with different managers and co-workers, and to maintain (or not) relationships with them. Danny’s experience isn’t unique. Camp Ramah has forged relationships with several employers in nearby Eagle River, including the local hardware store, pharmacy and coffee shop, and each Atzmayim young adult works five days each week gaining important vocational experience and establishing skills that will enhance their employment opportunities when they return home.
Seeing Danny and the other Atzmayim participants in camp, and in their jobs in the community, was heartwarming and inspiring. It is inclusion at its best, or at least the best we’ve observed. Now all we have to do is find (more likely create) an environment, and a community, that both embraces and challenges Danny the way Camp Ramah does, and make it last more than eight weeks.
Continuing its ongoing support of Ramah’s vocational programs, The Ruderman Family Foundation has granted $150,000 over three years for vocational education at Ramah California, Canada, New England and Wisconsin, and to encourage vocational education inclusion programs at other Ramah camps.