SPECIAL NEEDS PROGRAMS
A wonderful place to stay Ramah New England’s guesthouse is staffed by Tikvah “Post-Voc Eders” H OWA R D B L A S
he Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah in New England, now celebrating its 37th year, continues to grow and evolve, offering the Ramah experience to people of many ages with a wide range of special needs. Last summer, we initiated a program to hire “post-voc eders” — graduates of our Tikvah Program — as salaried employees to work in the newly-dedicated Herb and Barbara Greenberg Tikvah Guesthouse, a six-unit motel-quality facility. The guesthouse not only offers meaningful work opportunities for Tikvah campers, Vocational Education Program participants, and Tikvah graduates, but also allows guests to experience Shabbatot and y’mei ragil at camp. This summer, our guesthouse welcomed its first guests — and it was filled to capacity every Shabbat and many mid-week days (for Y’mei Iyyun, the board meeting for the Foundation for Jewish Camping, visits by rabbis in our communities, etc.) Each room is airconditioned, with two double beds, a bathroom, and a sitting area. The hallmark of the Tikvah guesthouse is the fact that it is 100% Tikvah run and operated. While a Tikvah staff member serves as overall supervisor, her main role is to run daily staff meetings, oversee assignment of jobs, help workers figure out how to solve
problems, and serve as a liaison to the camp director and to the office staff member responsible for booking guests. Each morning, following the staff meeting, the “post-voc eder” assigned full time to the guesthouse opens the building for work. He and his staff (one to two members of the Vocational Education Program) begin the day by finding out how many rooms will be occupied that night. The team then moves into action! Guesthouse workers strip beds of dirty sheets, collect towels, and clean each room. They sweep the floors, clean the bathrooms, do all laundry, make up each room, clean the porches and water the beautiful hanging flower baskets on the porches. Our Voc Ed supervisor was instrumental in securing a cleaning and room preparation protocol from a major international hotel chain, and our in-camp head of the laundry volunteered his time to model and teach proper techniques and steps for cleaning and making up a guest room. Guests consistently raved about the service and overall quality of the guesthouse. We are proud that guests of Camp Ramah in New England can now experience the beauty of camp in the finest of accommodations, lovingly prepared and
Herb and Barbara Greenberg stand at the entrance to the guesthouse run by Ramah New England Tikvah graduates.
maintained by some of “Palmer’s Finest.” And many of our Tikvah families pray and dream that we will one day become a year-round guesthouse — one that offers quality service and a place of employment and camaraderie for their children. Howard Blas is the director of Ramah New England’s Tikvah Program.
Reflections on Brian A special friendship develops at Ramah Canada DON COLLERMAN-ELIAS
hortly after I began my first summer working as a Judaics teacher at Camp Ramah in Canada, my wife and I were approached by Dr. Mitch Parker, director of the Tikvah Program. Mitch informed us of a dilemma with a former Tikvah camper named Brian, who had participated and thrived in the Tikvah Program since its inception 13 years ago. For the last few years, Brian had been too old to attend Ramah as a camper and had been participating in the Avodah Vocational Education Program, helping staff in the hadar ochel, in the laundry room, etc. This past summer, Brian had once again returned to camp. After less than one week, he had missed some of his work shifts and had been observed wandering around camp. Mitch informed us that the camp was considering sending Brian home unless it could find someone to assist and support Brian. My wife and I agreed to allow Brian to move out of staff housing into our cabin, and to undertake the responsibilities of guiding him to his various jobs and ac-
Don Collerman-Elias (left) with Brian
tivities. While we expected this to result in more work for the two of us, which it certainly did, we did not expect that taking care of Brian would be so rewarding for us. Yet, along the way we came to realize what a remarkable man Brian is. First of all, Brian has an infectiously warm personality. He was almost always happy with a smile on
his face and a hug for everyone he encountered. Jewish tradition teaches Moreover, the enthusiasm us that every person is and friendliness that he created in God’s image. extended to others was not dependent on their Brian actually lives as status or stations in life. if that were true. To Brian, everyone was important and worthy of a smile and a kind greeting. Every encounter was an opportunity to make or renew a friendship. Jewish tradition teaches us that every person is created in God’s image. Brian actually lives as if that were true. Secondly, Brian always takes pride and experiences joy in his work. Throughout the summer, Brian was unquestionably the happiest when he was helping others, always helping to the absolute best of his abilities. Once a task was explained and demonstrated to Brian, he would consistently perform it correctly and meticulously. He understood that each task, however small, was necessary for the good of the Ramah community. Brian was also often the first to offer unsolicited help. He demonstrated a strong sense of community responsibility. Finally, Brian celebrates life, viewing each day as special, as the start of something new and another opportunity for more joy, laughter, and friendship. The joy he experienced even when participating in what most of us would consider mundane activities reminded my wife and me to recognize and appreciate aspects of our lives that we often take for granted. As we spent an increasing amount of time with Brian, we were gradually drawn into Brian’s world — a world in which one saw and treated life with love, kindness, and compassion. And we knew that our relationship with Brian was making us better people. Don Collerman-Elias, a JTS Rabbinical School student, was a Shapiro Fellow at Camp Ramah in Canada last summer.
Ramah Canada Tivkah campers and staff enjoy special time together.
Building skills for the future Ramah California has great success with Ezra Program
amah California’s Ezra Program is a vocational training and independent living program for teens and young adults. “Café Ezra” is a college-style café at which Ojai staff members can spend their free time. By working at the café, Ezra participants have the opportunity to develop their vocational and social skills. In particular, participants learn essential skills for working in the food service industry, including cash register operation; preparation and service of iceblended coffee drinks, snow cones, and soft pretzels; and set-up and cleaning.
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