21st Century Inclusion at JCC Camps

Posted by Rachael Speck on February 27, 2019

Since February 2009, the JCC’s Emma Kaufmann Camp has answered the call to action of Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month, a unified national initiative to raise disability awareness and support efforts to foster inclusion in Jewish communities and programs worldwide. Never has focusing on this issue been more important than it is today.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 5 American children ages 3 through 17 — about 15 million — has a diagnosable mental, emotional or behavioral disorder in a given year. More disturbing, only 20 percent of these children are ever diagnosed and go on to receive treatment, which leaves approximately 12 million children who go without any treatment at all. In its August 2017 report, the CDC noted that serious depression is worsening in teens, especially girls, and the suicide rate among girls reached a 40-year high in 2015.  In December 2017, Harold Koplewicz, founding President of The Child Mind Institute reported, “Child and adolescent mental health disorders are the most common illnesses that children will experience under the age of 18.”

In response to these alarming statistics and a growing body of research that indicates a strong correlation between abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states and the growing prevalence of internet-based, handheld devices and social media, EKC and the day camps of the Pittsburgh JCC are piloting an innovative project to define and implement an expanded vision of inclusion related to invisible disabilities and the technology-related “fear of missing out” (FOMO). Thanks to a generous grant from the Staunton Farm Foundation, we are developing a 3-year strategic plan of broader inclusion at our camps that will include empowering and equipping staff and improving physical facilities to more holistically accommodate campers with a diverse range of needs and abilities.

At EKC, we are uniquely positioned to address inclusion through a 21st century lens with our cutting edge programming, robust staffing model and screen-free policy, which allows campers to truly “unplug” and more fully engage in relationships and activities. This coming summer we are launching our B’Yachad (inclusion) initiative to become more welcoming to campers with varying differences and disabilities. B’Yachad will include updating our staff training (i.e., Youth Mental Health First Aid) and related protocols to build mental health literacy among all staff and for them to better identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness. With the support of a dedicated Inclusion Specialist and inclusion counselors as well as a new sensory room, campers of all abilities will have access to the same amazing experiences throughout the summer at EKC.

In order to help frame our broader perspective of inclusion, FOMO and the existing teen mental health crisis, the Staunton Farm Foundation, the JCC’s overnight and day camps, its Center for Loving Kindness & Civic Engagement and The Second Floor will convene A Community Conversation on Teen Mental Health on Sunday, April 28, from 4-6 pm at the JCC in Squirrel Hill. We will be joined by Dr. Jean Twenge, psychology professor and author who wrote, “IGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.”

Dr. Twenge will speak about the mental health effects on teens being addicted to their smart phones and social media and how screen-free policies at camp can help mitigate the impact of this trend.  Dr. Twenge has been featured on the Today Show, Good Morning America, NPR and many other media outlets speaking on this topic.

Following Dr. Twenge’s talk, we will have a panel discussion with a variety of local experts to more fully explore the teen mental health crisis within our community and what parents can do to most effectively help their children navigate an increasingly complex and challenging time. To round out the evening, we also hope to share the initial results from the National Camp Smartphone Deprivation Study, a collaboration of the JCC Association and  Screen Education, a non-profit organization that conducts research on technology and human wellness, to more fully appreciate the impact of not allowing 12-16 year-old EKC and other overnight campers to bring their phones with them to camp.

For more information on EKC, click here

To contact Rachael Speck, EKC Associate Director, please fill out the form below. 

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