Voc Ed at Ramah: Foundation for the Future

The Vocational Education program at Camp Ramah – also known as Tochnit Avodah – provides an amazing opportunity for our older teens and young adults with developmental differences to continue to participate in the Ramah community in an age-appropriate and meaningful way. 

The program consists of a vocational transition program (Voc Ed Ma’avar) and the traditional vocational program (Voc Ed) that are designed to provide varying levels of support. All our Voc Ed participants are interested in and capable of working. They have a range of strengths and differences and, outside of camp, they live unique lives – some still in school, others in day habilitation/ community programs or supported employment, and some attending college.  

At camp, the participants’ days consist of a combination of vocational placements, recreational activities like fitness, swimming, and fun camp electives. Some also participate in Voc Ed University to explore and further develop “soft skills” such as interviewing, social skills, etiquette in the workplace, conflict resolution and more. Shared living space presents the chance to learn how to navigate interpersonal relationships and to live together with others as a community. Throughout it all, there are plentiful opportunities to develop friendships, confidence, greater independence, and for personal growth. 

This summer, we have 28 young adults who have joined us from eight states and are participating in our vocational programming. Each morning, after breakfast and tefillot (prayers), they gather together, meet up with their job coaches, and head off to their assigned worksites around camp, where most work 3-hour shifts. Assignments are based on personal preferences and interests, as well as strengths, skill sets, and staffing. This year our worksites around camp include the mercaz (mailroom) – sorting, preparation, and organization of emails and letters received, delivery, and assisting with the lost and found; Voc Ed Bakery – filling orders, learning about food safety, and baking birthday cakes for staff, as well as cookies, cakes, and other treats; macolet (snack-packing) – counting and packing snacks for camp bunks; macolet delivery – delivery of snacks around camp; Chadar Ochel (Dining Hall) set up – setting tables with tablecloths, cups, utensils, and more; food prep – preparing food for our camp meals; Roo Brew – filling drink and snack orders at our staff café; Limmud (Jewish Education) – assistant; and Pinat Teva (Nature Corner/ Farm) – assistant. Our Voc Eders take pride in their work around camp and when speaking with others, share their work placements as an aspect of their identity.  

This summer, we found ourselves in a great but unique predicament. Many of our workers have been happily working at the same job sites for several years and they’ve gotten better and faster at their jobs. It no longer takes them three hours to complete their assigned tasks. As a result, we have agreed to take on more responsibilities around camp. Many of our Voc Eders are now working multiple jobs over the course of the morning rather than just a single job. Our Voc Eders have all demonstrated incredible flexibility around this development. For example, our Chadar Ochel set-up group and our macolet (snack-packing) crew have expanded their repertoires and in addition to their regular positions, those groups are packing and delivering snacks to all of camp and doing some food prep for the kitchen too! On other days, they assist in keeping camp beautiful by plalking (picking up litter while walking) using reach extender tools. It’s amazing to observe our workers completing up to three jobs over the course of the morning rather than just one. They are proud of their accomplishments and frequently tell others about the new jobs that they are doing and, sometimes unexpectedly, enjoying! 

David, a Voc Eder, who has worked doing Chadar Ochel set-up set up for a number of years, explained that now he likes packing snacks too and that he loves both of his jobs. 

Similarly, Molly, a Voc Eder who has worked in macolet packing snacks for the past couple of years, shared that now she is having “so much fun” delivering the snacks too. She likes the job “because it brings joy to have kids enjoying their snacks” and she states that, “It’s been hard doing different jobs, but I like it!” 

The skills acquired around camp at worksites, Voc Ed University, and through living in a shared space as part of a supported community are truly skills for life. Our Voc Eders are having fun and at the same time developing their confidence and a view of themselves as capable and contributing members of the Ramah community.  When our Voc Eders return home, they take their memories, experiences, friendships, and their identity as workers and contributing community members. It’s a foundation upon which to build, as they journey forward in their adult lives. Tov Li B’Machaneh Ramah!