When you walked over to the sports fields at Camp Chi on Monday, it seemed like a regular day at camp. 400 kids, counselors and staff were singing and cheering on others in soccer, kick-ball, tug-o-war, ring toss and more. But “The Road to Chi” was anything but an ordinary day.
On Monday, 74 athletes competed under the direction of eight coaches, highlighting how easily campers with disabilities can competitively play alongside their typically developing peers.
“Days like this make me smile,” commented a 13 year old camper as he walked off the soccer field.
As the world gets ready for the Summer Olympics in Rio, the Camp Chi staff wanted to bring a competitive, fierce, fun, inclusive experience to a camp. The Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) invited Special Olympics Wisconsin to partner in this effort. Lisa Tobin, Director of Disabilities initiatives at the FJC explained, “As the Special Olympics moves towards an integrated sports model, we thought that we might draw upon their many years of expertise in coaching children with disabilities to learn how they make accommodations for all children to be able to participate in competitive sports”
Jewish camp is a leader in advocating for inclusive environments where every child shines and is able to thrive within a Jewish environment. The event was an example of how Jewish camp is pushing the boundaries in showing the world that with the right attitude, the right goals and the right training – anything is possible.
“Camp Chi, does an outstanding job with integrating campers with disabilities into all activities,” remarked Don Wigington Director of Unified Sports, Special Olympics Wisconsin. “What is most impressive is how the inclusion feels organic and not forced. Special Olympics Wisconsin looks forward to future collaborations with Camp Chi and bringing together their campers with our athletes.”
The day was much more than competitive fun and games. Camp Chi athletic staff, village leaders and counselors participated in a Lunch and Learn with the Special Olympics coaches to learn about the program background and tactics to use on the field.
“Working with the Special Olympics is a great way to shake up what we do at Camp Chi every day. It’s a natural piece of inclusion here,” commented Guy Robertson, Athletic Director at Camp Chi.
Tobin summed it up. “In the end, the Special Olympics staff walked away with as much learning as they offered. The coaches were overwhelmed by the comradery they saw between the campers at Camp Chi. The organizations will continue to provide feedback and suggestions to strengthen each other’s programs and others across Jewish camp”
Tobin pointed out that Camp Chi’s commitment to inclusion is also in thanks to a partnership with Keshet, an outstanding organization that provides educational, recreational, social and vocational support to individuals with intellectual disabilities and the FJC Ruderman/Alexander Inclusion Initiative. “We look forward to building more relationships like this.”
JCC Chicago Camp Chi is one of six camps who received a Foundation for Jewish Camp – Ruderman/Alexander Inclusion grant to expand services to children with disabilities. Campers with disabilities go to camp, play sports and enjoy activities alongside their typically developing peers.