Many years ago as a Day Camp Director I would anxiously await the first day of camp… I was probably more excited than most of the children who were planning to attend camp. But as excited as I was before that first day, I was also always a little nervous. Would my staff “show up” the way they were trained to? Would the parents have received the newsletter I worked so hard on? Would the facility be ready? In addition to all of these little worries there was also the worry about the safety of the children. The incredible trust on the part of the parents to hand over their children each day (having never met me or the staff) was a little overwhelming… I didn’t want to “mess up.”
I would look over the list of campers’ special needs and constantly remind the staff of Johnny’s allergy to peanut butter or Sally’s fear of bees. And then the children would arrive and every year no matter how prepared I thought we were there was always a surprise. Every year on the first day of camp I would meet a child who didn’t eagerly join the other kids in line at the flagpole despite the encouragement of the staff, a child who would cover his ears when the loud music started during assembly or a child who just couldn’t figure out how to participate in an activity. I would go back to my list of special needs and look for the child’s name and it wouldn’t be there.
The first two years as a Day Camp Director, this both surprised and frustrated me. Why would a parent send her child to camp without telling me about the child’s needs? How could I possibly care for a child when the parent isn’t sharing the child’s story with me? After two years of experiencing this same thing and of talking with these parents, I finally realized that the parents were fearful that I would not allow their child to attend if I knew about the child’s needs beforehand. These parents had been turned away from other recreation programs because they had told the providers about their children’s special needs. They assumed that the Y would react in the same way. As a Y we realized that we needed to change the perception that existed in the community of families of children with special needs… we wanted every family to know that their child was welcome at our camp and we wanted to know as much about their child before the first day as possible.
Enter National Inclusion Project. With the help of The Project we were able to communicate that our Y day camp was inclusive, that we wanted ALL children to attend. We were able to set up an intake process that allowed us to interview families ahead of time, meet the children, give tours of the facility and begin building a relationship. The Project was able to help provide training for our entire staff team to better prepare us for including all children. We also were able to receive funding to help provide additional staff to support inclusion. The funding was multiple years which allowed us time to figure out how to support these additional staff within our operating budget after the grant ended. Our Y is part of a larger Association of Y’s and the National Inclusion Project is now supporting 3 of our facilities. Talk about impact!
Without the National Inclusion Project our Y might still be struggling to support inclusion. Our mission is “to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body for ALL.” The National Inclusion Project is helping us to achieve our mission by supporting us in serving ALL children.