“Shabbos Is Calling” – Keeping Campers Engaged Year Round”

Tikvah Director, Howard Blas, was asked to guest post on the Matankids blog:

“Why can’t camp be twelve months instead of just two months?” asks Marcia Yellin, mother of Jacob Yellin, a long time camper and member of the vocational training program at Camp Ramah in New England’s Tikvah Program. Jacob and many other campers with a wide range of developmental disabilities have benefited from the Jewish, social, educational, recreational and vocational experiences which the Ramah camping movement has been offering since the first Tikvah Program started 41 years ago. Ramah currently offers a range of overnight, day and family camp programs for campers with a range of special needs.

But campers return home in August, and, they need to wait a long ten months before these rich experiences continue.

Thanks to “Shabbos Is Calling,” campers and staff members connect every Thursday night, all year round. Last year, a small group of campers and staff members from Ramah New England “met” by conference call every Thursday to sing Shabbat songs, learn about the parsha and “schmooze.” This year, thanks to a grant from the Ruderman Family Foundation, campers and staff at four Ramah camps participate regularly in “Shabbos Is Calling.” And they can now “see” each other.

Every Thursday at 7, campers and staff from the Amitzim camping program in New England click on the link to a special Amitzim “room” on Megameeting.com. Roberta Lieber, mother of regular participant, Sam Glucksman, writes, “I just want you to know how much he still loves it and looks forward to seeing his camp friends each week. From Sam’s perspective it is a real treat!” Imagine the excitement of seeing friends “pop up” on the screen—from Florida, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and beyond. And the counselors are having a blast as well.

At 8 pm, members of the Vocational Training Program have their turn to meet with their friends and staff members. Last night, the group discussed why we are happy when Adar comes, one members excitement about her upcoming Israel trip, another young man’s delight that he didn’t miss work this week due to snow, and another man’s involvement in his community college’s astronomy club. All discussed the building of the mishkan (portable tabernacle, from this week’s torah portion) and ended with a spirited singing of “Shabbos Is Coming.”

Campers and staff look forward all week to “Shabbos Is Calling.” This year, the program has moved to a video conferencing format.

The Canada Ramah Tikvah Program has met once so far, before Tu B’shvat and enjoyed reconnecting with friends from the summer, and hearing the classic story of the “special spice of Shabbat.” California Ramah Tikvah campers and staff are planning to meet around holidays—with Purim and Pesach meetings already planned. And Wisconsin Ramah will likely run two groups, with one serving as a social skills and processing group for some of their older campers on college campuses.

Young adults with special needs are embracing technology. I routinely receive notes from campers on Facebook and Skype, and I receive SMS messages—asking me who is hosting the call, and what we will be discussing! This is a very empowering technology. “Shabbos Is Calling” is helping Ramah campers connect in the “off season” and can easily be used by members of many programs, in many settings.

Feel free to contact me if you need help!

Howard Blas is the Director of the Tikvah Program at Camp Ramah in New England.

Categories: Tikvah