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The decision to close most Jewish summer camps this summer was agonizing.   There were dozens of factors to consider in whether or not to open camp.  There were many practical and safety questions—for example, how to:   assure social distancing, effectively and accurately test campers and staff, manage potential outbreaks in camp infirmaries, practically and ethically deal with issues of potentially overwhelming small town hospitals in the event of huge increase in cases, etc.

At some point, camps began to wonder– at what point does camp STOP being summer camp when the usual offerings can’t be offered.  For example, what is summer camp with no Israelis (many bring 50 or more as part of the mishlachat/Israeli delegation), no out of camp trips, no visitors day, no visitors, strict policies on packages and deliveries, no staff days off, no visiting musicians or rabbis, no sports competitions with “rival” camps, etc.   There was also talk of the need to potentially exclude people with various medical vulnerabilities.  That didn’t feel to camps who strive to be inclusive.  Some directors and boards of directors reasoned, “When camp doesn’t look like camp, may be it is not worth running camp!”

This is where the US Open comes in to the picture.  I love tennis as much as I love camp.   I long for my three post-camp weeks at the US Open, writing for various publications.  I will personally be sad IF the US Open doesn’t take place.  It would mean no player interviews and articles, no seeing friends from around the world in the media center, no late night matches, no watching up and coming juniors, no watching the extraordinary athletes who play in wheelchair tennis.  

To be clear, no one knows yet if the US Open will take place.  According to an article in the 6/2 New York Times:  “U.S. Open Could Go On, With a 2-Tournament Bubble in New York,” there are many scenarios under consideration [ www.nytimes.com/2020/06/02/sports/tennis/us-open-new-york.html]. But the important camp-like question remains:  at what point will the US Open no longer feel like the US Open.

According to the article:

– If the tournaments can be held, there would most likely be no spectators on site — a major shift for the U.S. Open, a Grand Slam tournament that attracted more than 850,000 fans last year over three weeks.

-Even without fans or most stadium workers, rigorous testing would still be required at the tennis center to monitor and protect players, support staff and officials…Once on site, there would be daily temperature checks and health questionnaires, as well as frequent follow-up testing for the virus.

-There may be quarantine rules that could require some athletes to self-isolate after arriving in the United States and again in Europe after returning

-Wheelchair tennis is unlikely but has not been ruled out.

-The junior and legends events would be eliminated.

-There would be no ball kids, but adult ball persons would still be used to facilitate play; they would be required to wear gloves but not be allowed to handle player towels.

-There has been discussion of changing the format of men’s singles matches at the U.S. Open from best-of-five sets to best-of-three sets to reduce players’ injury risk

-The size of tennis entourages will be reduced (persons only one support person)

-To protect their health, players could be restricted to an official hotel, probably outside Manhattan, where they would have access to treatment, training and testing, and be transported directly to the tennis center in Queens.

-Qualifying tournaments are likely to be scrapped and doubles competitions to be included with reduced draws of 24 teams, but no final decisions have been made.

I love camp.  I am sad without camp.  I am moving on and looking very forward to next summer.  I love tennis.  I will be sad if there is no US Open.  We must continue to ask—at what point does the US Open stop being the US Open? 




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I have had RV travel on my mind since my trips to Wyoming and Colorado last summer.  Bill Morris, founder of Blue Star Recyclers, suggested I rent a Winnebego and drive cross country with a film crew– , “On the Road with Charles Kurault”-style, visiting creative job sites training and employing people with disabilities. 

I had stopped in Denver to visit several amazing job sites including Blue Star, an extraordinary computer recycling company (with locations in Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs and now Chicago):   https://howardblas.com/2019/08/08/blue-star-recyclers/.  They train and hire many young adults with disabilities to disassemble computers and other electronics for recycling. 

To date, I have visited and written about 23 job sites, from pizza stores, to car washes, breweries, book stores, sock companies and cafes.  https://howardblas.com/disabilities/job-sites/).   I would LOVE to follow Bill’s suggestion and drive across this amazing country, visiting creative job sites.   This may not be the summer.

First, businesses are just now, slowly getting back on their feet, post COVID-19. Not sure I’d be able to visit and meet the founders and employees at the job sites I’d like to see.  Second, it is nearly impossible to rent or even buy an RV these days.   With people nervous about air travel and staying in hotels, the motor home offers the perfect travel solution—it is self-contained and has a kitchen, toilet and shower—not need for food in restaurants, or public bathrooms on the road.  According to a June 2nd article in the New York Post, “RV rentals have increased 1,000 percent since April, while RV sales jumped 600 percent in the same time period.” https://nypost.com/2020/06/02/people-rent-rvs-in-droves-for-fun-safe-adventures-amid-chaos/.

Driving a 32-foot RV may not be everyone’s cup of tea—but it sure offers the chance for families with kids of all ages to have a great family adventure—seeing this beautiful country, being together, and finding a meaningful alternative to cancelled overnight camps.  (There are other camping options as well–from pop up campers to travel trailers).  Let me know how it goes—maybe next year will be my summer!



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These past few weeks, one of the most important items on my desk is my eraser.  Call me old school, but I still write all of my appointments in a pocket-sized date book. Thankfully, all appointments are written in pencil.  You never know when a bar or bat mitzvah student will need to reschedule, or when something like Covid-19 will necessitate the need to erase every concert, bar or bat mitzvah, conference, or summer camp session.  Sadly, staff week for summer camp this summer was erased  L

Today, I would have been putting important items in piles for staff week at Camp Ramah in Northern California, where I serve as director of the Tikvah Program, where school-aged children and young adults with disabilities are included in the camping and vocational training program of camp.   By the middle of next week, everything would have been packed in suitcases and knapsacks—in anticipation of an early Thursday morning flight from JFK to SFO or San Jose.   In addition to necessary clothes (it gets warm midday and cold at night on the Monterrey Bay!), I would have my bike helmet, tennis racket, tallis, tefillin, computer, cables, chargers and more.

I would have an entire knapsack of materials about inclusion, behavioral management, disabilities (visible and invisible), the difference between equality and equity, all kinds of stories, prayer books, and more. I would be looking forward to an intense week of teaching and getting to know our beloved Tikvah counselors, and staff who will work with our campers in every part of camp.

None of this will happen this year.  All Ramah camps and so many camps across the US and Canada are cancelled for the summer.  It is simply not safe to open and operate camps this summer.

There is something magical about staff week in a Jewish summer camp.  The staff members from around the country—and the world—spend hours learning about being counselors, being leaders and mentors, and being Jewish.  They learn what it means to be a dugma (a personal example), to work as part of a team, to transmit the mission of camp.  And they have a lot of fun!  It is shocking to imagine the dining room—packed with only staff—can “grow” to fit the campers in one week as well. There are late night meetings, and song sessions, and bonding activities, there are ice breakers, swim tests, bunk decorating, ice cream parties, sessions with the camp insurer on important, difficult issues of appropriate behavior with campers; and there are often sessions with an outside expert on LBGTQ (LGBTQIA) issues and sensitivity.  I can only imagine how the camps would have addressed current issues in our society—had they opened—from Corona to race issues.

For now, I will stare at all of these important items—on shelves and drawers—and long for next summer.  Our work now turns to finding ways to offer some of the camp magic virtually, with our campers, staff and the larger camp community.

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One of my goals of this blog is to share some of the amazing people and resources I encounter on a daily basis in the disabilities inclusion space.  These “fellow travelers” are involved in self-advocacy, program development, self-advocacy, camping, employment, accessible travel, and more.

Today, I had the privilege of speaking with members of the NeuroClastic team.  The website, https://neuroclastic.com/, says in big letters “NEUROCLASTIC:  Information about the autism spectrum from autistic people.”  Tabs include “What is Autism,” “Justice,” “Living Life,” “Creative,” “About Us,” and “Donate.”   There are thousands of blogposts, written by 300 contributors with—get this—3 million visitors!

The FAQs make it clear that, in almost all cases, contributors must be autistic: “Our primary purpose is to document the autistic experience through the lens and work of autistic individuals. For this reason, we primarily accept autistic contributors.  At times, we will feature a parent, carer, advocate, activist, ally, professional, or a non-autistic neurodivergent person who has unique insight.” 

Who better understands and can write about the autism experience than people with autism.  Delver deeper under the “Justice” tab to find blogs about Ableism, Language and Change.  Under the “Living Life” tab, read blogs filed under Education, Masking, Being Diagnosed, Mental Health and Trauma and More.  I highly recommend spending an hour or more just exploring the site. 

Here are a few names of blogs to draw you in:

https://neuroclastic.com/2019/04/24/ten-things-we-love-about-being-autistic/

https://neuroclastic.com/2020/05/20/how-to-get-your-workforce-excited-about-diversity-inclusion/

https://neuroclastic.com/2020/04/19/the-autistic-english-dictionary/

https://neuroclastic.com/2019/10/31/creative-50-shades-of-aba/

 

Speaking with Founder and CEO of NeuroClastic, Terra Vance, was a treat.  Terra explained that name of the nonprofit comes from the words Neurodiversity and Iconoclastic.  Combine them and you get…NeuroClastic!   She is an industrial and organizational psychology consultant.  Her passions are in the intersections of social justice, equality, literature, Truth, and science.   She has written an impressive 68 blogs on the site.  Check out her most recent post:  https://neuroclastic.com/2020/06/01/i-will-not-be-rehoming-or-murdering-my-autistic-child-black-lives-matter-to-me/

 

It is refreshing to meet people so driven and passionate and committed to a cause.  Reading these amazing blogs are informative and offer an opportunity to learn about autism from the world’s best teachers on the subject—people with autism.

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