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“The Wheels of the CoP Go Round and Round…”
May 29, 2011 by Howard Blas
Five days on a bike, riding with 40 riders through the Golan Heights and the Galilee to raise more than $200,000 for Camp Ramah special needs camping programs, gave me new perspective on my Ramah Special Needs Program Directors CoP (read “Nurturing an Online Community of Practice:http://www.lookstein.org).

In the past few weeks, I have been wondering if our small, “closed,” directors CoP has reached an impasse and is in need of some “new life.” Perhaps the recent fall off in participation is seasonal. As the camp season approaches, camp directors are very busy--maybe even too busy to actively participate in monthly CoP video conferences and google group discussions. . When participation wanes, I sometimes wonder if we have reached an impasse and need to breathe new life.

Now I think we simply need to measure success differently. While in Israel, there were two wonderful developments very much connected to (and more likely an outgrowth of) the CoP. In fact, both developments occurred precisely because the Ramah special needs directors are in regular contact.

The CoP has demonstrated to the National Ramah director and the National Ramah Commission that there is great benefit in having all Ramah special needs programs working more closely together. The seven programs—spread out across the United States and Canada—are part of a larger whole, and we special needs program directors have a lot to share with each other.

The first successful outgrowth of our CoP was the Ramah Galil Bike ride itself!http://www.ramahbikeride.org Riders connected to all seven Ramah camps came out in support of the various Ramah special needs programs. Two special Shabbat panel discussion with Tikvah Program founders, Herb and Barbara Greenberg, and me, taught the riders about the 41 year history of the Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah in New England--Ramah’s first program for campers with special needs. They also learned about challenges, successes and the many Ramah overnight and family camp programs for campers and their families. The riders became more aware and therefore more connected to the cause.

Second, while the riders were enjoying Israel, raising money, and learning about the Ramah special needs programs, a special group of experienced Ramah counselors—from the various special needs programs across the US and Canada—were meeting together (at Camp Ramah in New England) for the first ever joint training program—and it was underwritten from the proceeds of the ride. The riders enjoyed the phone call on our last evening with the dozen or so star counselors—they took a break from their learning and sharing to thank us.

I was smiling for an additional reason. They didn’t know it yet, but their desire to stay in contact, share programs, offer support and start a google group, was leading them to…the formation of a Ramah special needs counselors CoP!! The wheels on the CoP truly go round and round!