Truly Essential Workers Who Happen to Have Disabilities

Nearly every summer camp is busy offering some type of virtual programming.  Virtual camping both engages children who would otherwise be swimming and making s’mores in person (but can’t due to Covid 19), and provides their parents with some respite and comfort, knowing their children are doing something wholesome and meaningful. 

In our 10 Ramah overnight summer camps, children with disabilities are ordinarily included in person at camp, through our Tikvah camping programs and through the support of inclusion staff.    This summer, campers with disabilities participate side by side—virtually—with campers from all divisions in camp. They cook, sing, dance, do yoga and more together.

There is one group of young adults with disabilities whose needs were not being met.  Parents were telling us that their children in their late teens and early 20s, who ordinarily participate in vocational training programs, were missing out.  They are used to spending their summer learning job skills, practicing soft skills at a job site, and socializing with their peers.  We therefore “got to work” and began offering a 12 session virtual vocational training and socializing program. 

Tuesday sessions address such topics as:  setting goals, giving back to our communities, mental & physical wellness, professionalism, managing money, resumes & interviews and self-advocacy. Thursday sessions feature a hands on activity and a voc ed alum sharing about his or her path from Tikvah to employment.

Last week, while interviewing Ramah Wisconsin alum, Austin, we learned what it truly means to be essential.  Austin was telling the 40 participants about his path from his Ramah camping and vocational training program, to having a job in his home community.  He shared with the group that he is employed by a hospital in St. Louis, where he delivers food trays to patient rooms and cleans them up afterwards.  He proudly told the group, “I am an essential worker!”

Tiffany then proudly exclaimed, “I am an essential worker, too!’  She told the group how she continues to bag groceries at her local supermarket in California and has been throughout the Covid crisis.  

Another alum of our Ramah New England Tikvah Program, Jeremy, also works in a hospital and hasn’t missed a day of work since the Covid crisis started.  He works in the supply room at the Washington, DC area hospital.  He prefers to keep his beard a certain length, but has had to “go shorter” for his mask to work properly.

This Covid crisis has given all of us an opportunity to ask “who is truly essential?”  We know that doctors and nurses and hospital workers are essential.  We also know that anybody who helps us get food and supplies is essential.  I am so proud that some of our alum, who happen to have disabilities, are performing such essential work.  I have no doubt it is appreciated!

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