Vocational Education Program: Great Training, Big Impact

The presence and positive impact of Camp Ramah’s vocational training program for young adults with disabilities is widely felt at Camp Ramah this summer. From setting the tables in the Chadar Ochel (Dining Hall), to taking photos for the camp website; from providing baked goods for birthdays and staff meetings from the Voc Ed Bakery, to our new evening pizza shop for staff, the Voc Eders are very proud of the work they are doing to enhance camp.

“I feel proud of working in the Marp (infirmary),” says Aaron Siegel. “I help Olga (our long-time head nurse) by doing many different jobs: making beds, sweeping the rooms, shredding files, doing laundry, folding sheets and towels, and rewinding the videos.”

The Vocational Education program at Ramah grew out of a need to provide a “next step” program for campers graduating from the Amitzim program. As campers age out of camp, they have the opportunity to return to camp as staff members. The Voc Ed program provides a parallel experience for young adults with disabilities. Voc Ed participants work in all areas of camp: Café Ramah, the Marp, the Chadar Ochel, the guesthouse, the Merkaz (supply and mail room), Omanut (arts and crafts), the office, and other sites. Not only is the program important for the participants as it provides important job and life skill development, but it also shows all members of the camp community that people with disabilities can contribute to camp in very meaningful ways. So much that is happening at camp “is happening because of the Voc Ed participants. Camp feels like a real place for equal opportunity employment for all,” says Rami Schwartzer, Camp Ramah’s Program Director.

“The Voc Ed program is important because it helps people with special needs get jobs,” says Sarah Klabal, a Voc Ed participant. “I take pictures for the camp website. After I take the pictures I sit with my supervisor and she tells me why some pictures are good, and some are bad. She is helping me to learn how to be a great photographer, and I am helping her take pictures since she cannot be in two places at once. I love seeing my pictures on the camp website!”

Jeff Suskin, another participant in the program, commented, “I think it is very important to have Voc Ed at Camp Ramah in New England because we get to do a lot of different jobs around camp and it is very good experience. I work in the kitchen at camp, and I am very proud of the work that I do because it is a big help to Rich (the dining hall manager) and the other dining hall workers.”

One new initiative this summer is the Voc Ed Pizza Shop. On its inaugural night, staff members lined up to get a taste of the delicious pizza prepared and served by Voc Eders. It was a wonderful leadership opportunity for Voc Ed, and a great way for staff to feel appreciated at the end of a long day of work. The Voc Ed bakery provides a similar service, as staff can place orders for delectable baked goods, such as oatmeal craisin cookies, plum tart, and banana chocolate chip cake. “The cookies are delicious!” says Hillel Buechler, Rosh Magshimim. “As a result of the Voc Ed Bakery, tzevet (staff) and chanichim (campers) have grown to really appreciate Voc Ed’s contributions to the camp kehilah (community).  It is evident how happy it makes the Voc Eders to know that they are truly valued and appreciated as members of our community.”  Sean Carey, our chef, has been instrumental in supporting and guiding these new initiatives.

Vocational training for young adults has long been a part of Camp Ramah’s renowned Tikvah Program.  In this and recent summers, the program has been the focus of intensive study and innovation as we undertake to provide the participants with the best possible summer experience that will build both independent living and work skills.  Changes to the program include new initiatives like the Voc Ed Bakery and Pizza Shop; expanded work time; new job sites; additional training for staff members who work with Voc Eders; the hiring of a Director of Vocational Services; and the hiring of three additional job coaches. Funding for these efforts has been provided by the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, Nancy and Fred Poses, the Ruderman Family Foundation, Diane Lipson Schilit and Howard Schilit, the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs of New England and Connecticut, and the Sisterhoods of Temple Shalom in Salem, MA and B’nai Israel in Rockville, MD.

Only three weeks into kayitz 2014, we can see that the Voc Ed Program is having more impact than ever:  on the participants and on the whole camp community.  We cannot wait to see what is in store for the rest of the summer!  CLICK HERE to see our Voc Ed video!

Categories: Tikvah, Voc-Ed