Two Bay Area Jewish summer camps — Camp Tawonga near Yosemite and Camp Keff in Foster City — are among 16 camps that have been awarded grants to increase accessibility for campers and staff with disabilities.
The grants are part of the $12 million Yashar Initiative, a program of the Foundation for Jewish Camp funded by the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. The Yashar Initiative was designed to address the needs of individuals with autism spectrum disorder, as well as people with intellectual, developmental, physical and sensory disabilities.
The grants will go toward capital improvements, professional development, staff training, research and evaluation.
At Tawonga, the grant will fund improvements to cabins and the dining hall.
“We are expanding our dining hall to have better access and more space for kids. It is currently loud and can be overwhelming to some kids. And we are adding camper cabins to serve more kids and to create accessible housing,” said Tawonga Executive Director Jamie Simon-Harris.
“The dining hall will be ready by this summer and the camper cabins by next summer.”
Camp Keff is a day camp at the Peninsula JCC in Foster City. PJCC has an unfinished outdoor area that will be filled in with an athletic field among other new features, including a sensory garden and outdoor classroom funded by the grant.
“A sensory garden is a garden that has textures, colors, calming smells like rosemary. It’s tactile; you can touch it or sit in it. It’s a calming environment that engages all the senses,” said Paul Geduldig, the center’s CEO.
“The classroom will be a kind of yurt. It’s an outdoor space where we can do music or classes or yoga, but it will also have a secluded connected area with pillows and lower light, so kids with special needs are still in the space and connected, but they can have some space to themselves if they need it. About 15 percent of our campers have special needs of some kind and so this was about how to make the space more inclusive.”
Each of the first 16 camps that received grants was required to independently raise 25 percent of the project’s cost before applying. They will receive money for capital improvements, as well as a program grant totaling $2.5 million for the first round of the initiative. The camps anticipate finishing their improvements by the summer of 2020.
Each grant recipient also committed to increasing its total campers with disabilities to at least 5 percent of the camper population.
In addition to Tawonga and Camp Keff, grants were awarded to Beber Camp, Wisconsin; B’nai Brith Camp, Oregon; Camp Ramah, Southern California; Camp Ramah Poconos, Pennsylvania; Camp Simcha, New York; Camp Solomon Schechter, Washington; JCC Camp Chi, Wisconsin; JCC Camp Ruach, New Jersey; JCC Camp Yachad, New Jersey; JCC Camp “Z” Frank Apachi, Illinois; Mid-Island Y JCC Camp, New York; Ramah Darom, Georgia; Ramah Day Camp, New York; and URJ Camp Harlam, Pennsylvania.