Rubik’s Cubes and Other Ways to Include
By Shayna Sigman
The most heartwarming thing about working at camp is really getting to know campers. Camp runs on its own time, and the level of closeness achieved over a short period matches that seen over months in other settings. Chanel, one of our BB Camp Unit Heads, and I, BB Camp’s Inclusion Coordinator, had a wonderful experience with one of our campers, Aaron*. Aaron, a 9th grader, entered camp with many challenges and faced some difficult situations, but through the support of his counselors, he gained many skills to help him be successful.
Upon arrival, Aaron immediately wanted to go home. Like we do with all campers, we urged him to stay and stick it out, while he got acquainted to the camp life. Chanel describes Aaron as “an incredibly sweet, funny, and sensitive boy.” But with an ADHD diagnosis and English as his second language, other campers did not get to experience this side of Aaron often.
To help Aaron get acquainted with the other campers, we partnered up campers, so that they could get a chance to know each other. As we learned more about the kids in the cabin, we were better able to pair him with other campers who shared some of his interests. His face and mannerisms would light up when other campers would engage in a puzzle or get lost in a conversation about comic books with him.
In the beginning of the session, Aaron would often wander away from the group, which we later discovered happened when he was not being intellectually stimulated. We started challenging him more throughout the day by providing him time to create in his woodworking club and by supplying him with a Rubik’s cube and puzzles for when his cabin was doing a more sedentary activity. By using tools that kept Aaron mentally and socially engaged, he integrated more easily into the group.
At one point during the unit camping trip, Chanel handed Aaron a store bought water bottle, because he had lost his the previous day. With a confused look on his face, he asked her why she bought him the water bottle. She responded that she cared about him and wanted him to be healthy. It was like a light went off in his head. He let her know how appreciative he was, which was the most communicative she had seen him. For the rest of the trip, he asked Chanel if he could help with carrying things and was much more prompt about following instructions. By showing Aaron that she cared about him, Chanel built a foundation of trust with him, which lasted through the end of camp.
The best part about working at camp is being able to see kids like Aaron that want to leave camp the first week overcoming some of their challenges and love the experience. I was so proud seeing how excited Chanel and the counselors became each time they figured out a new way to engage with Aaron. For me, watching Aaron’s bunk-mates seek him out to hang out with him was so rewarding. It reminds me why camp is so important for kids like Aaron, who might not get the same type of experience in school or extracurricular activities. While there were challenges, working with Aaron to create a great experience for him made it all worth it. Every time he smiled, sought one of us out to tell us about his day, or sat and talked with a new friend, we knew that we had made a real difference in his camp experience and in his life.
* Name changed for privacy
Shayna Sigman is preparing for her second summer as the Inclusion Coordinator at B’nai B’rith Camp. She obtained her Masters of Social Work from Washington University in St. Louis and uses her previous work in student support services to support campers during the summer. Her favorite part of camp is seeing the inclusive community built by all members of the BB Camp family, from campers to alumni to staff. Contact her at email@example.com