Kadima: Moving Forward

JFS & JCC Create Inclusive Camp Solutions 

Written By: Madeline Driban, JFS Communications Associate

In the months leading into summer, parents and guardians are tasked with finding activities and programs to occupy their children’s schedules during their months out of school. This is no easy task, but the value of day camps is indisputable as it provides opportunities for children to safely try new things, make friends, and remain creative and active during their summer break. 

For families with children who have social, emotional or behavioral challenges, this becomes even more difficult as the fear of their child being stigmatized or rejected by a camp unequipped to assist with these challenges keeps them from enrolling or disclosing the child’s needs. During the school year, many of these students receive in-classroom support through an Individual Evaluation Plan (IEP), but these supports do not follow the children through the summer months, which can lead to isolation, disruptive behaviors, and challenging group dynamics for parents and camp staff to manage. Children without these critical supports are at risk of falling behind socially and developmentally; further, their behavior can be difficult to manage for camp staff who have not been specifically trained.

To ensure all campers are offered an enriching, safe, and fulfilling camp experience, Camp JCC and Jewish Family Services have identified an inclusive solution: Kadima (Moving Forward).

 The original brainstorming for Kadima came from a place of compassion and commitment,” shared Mona Duwell, Chief Operating Officer of the JCC. “JFS and the JCC recognize that the change in routine during the summer months can leave some children and families without their usual support systems, on which many rely.  

 In the summer of 2017, JFS sent a volunteer therapist to spend about 4 hours a week to assist with behavioral issues and disruptions identified by camp staffon a daily basis and throughout the summer, the JFS therapist provided camp counselors with consultation, observation, and opportunities to discuss and debrief difficult camper interactions. Campers, counselors, and families benefited from this added layer of training and expertise and, the following summer, a licensed therapist provided this support for an increased 12 hours a week, resulting in more positive outcomes. For 2019, there was a proposal for even more support from JFS’ licensed professionals, having them officially join the Camp Health and Wellness Department and comprehensively infuse Kadima mental health supports for campers with extra social and emotional needs 

 By adding a qualified JFS counselor to our Camp JCC Health and Wellness team, we reinforced our mutual commitment to supporting our campers, their families, and the camp staff,” said Duwell.  

 These critical therapeutic support services and partnership with Camp JCC creates a welcoming environment and opportunity to seamlessly assist campers with special needs through activities with individual, group, and crisis interventions, added Jane Galli, Director of Outpatient Behavioral Health at JFS. “This allows them to participate in the camp community comfortably, with the supports they require to succeed.” 

 It’s not just campers and counselors reaping the benefits of this partnership – parents and caregivers are reassured by this presence of therapeutic support. For example, one set of parents were concerned their child with anxiety would struggle in an unstructured camp setting with multiple activities, outside eating, public swimming, and weather-forced changes. The JFS therapist and camp staff worked closely with the family to address their concerns, as the parents know their child best; the therapist oversaw and monitored the accommodations the child required so they could transition positively into the camp setting. 

 “Parents and caregivers are put at ease knowing their child can move forward in their individual psychosocial growth and behavioral goals while still having some summer fun, explained Galli. 

 Kadima’s success creates a unique and desperately-needed inclusive opportunity for children with extra needs and their caregivers to be part of a camp communityThe programmatic partnership is a gift for children, families, and camp staff to feel fully supported and creates an environment suitable for all children and their families during the summer break. 

 I’ve seen our camp staff grow in their confidence working with their campers, and parents have become more open to partnering with us to provide a successful summer experience,” observed Duwell. “The success of Kadima is undeniable, and we’re excited to watch the benefits of the JCC and JFS partnership continue to grow in the summers to come.


For more information about counseling and support services at JFS for children and families, contact us at 302-478-9411.