This April, 16 Jewish camps across North America will be the first recipients of a groundbreaking grant to increase accessibility for campers and staff with disabilities through the Yashar Initiative. The Hebrew word “Yashar” translates to both “level” and “integrity,” and like its namesake, the Yashar Initiative is intended to improve accessibility for campers and staff with disabilities on multiple levels by providing funds for capital improvements, professional development, staff training, research, and evaluation. The $12 million Yashar Initiative, a program of Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) generously funded by The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, will enable Jewish day and overnight camps to better welcome all members of the Jewish community.

The 16 day and overnight camps awarded this first round of Yashar grants represent a diverse range of affiliations:

  • Beber Camp, Wisconsin

  • B’nai Brith Camp, Oregon
  • Camp Keff, California
  • Camp Ramah, California
  • Camp Ramah Poconos. Pennsylvania
  • Camp Simcha, New York
  • Camp Solomon Schechter, Washington
  • Camp Tawonga, California
  • JCC Chicago Camp Chi, Wisconsin
  • JCC Camp Ruach, New Jersey
  • JCC Camp Yachad, New Jersey
  • JCC Chicago ‘Z’ Frank Apachi, Northbrook, IL
  • Mid Island Y JCC Camp, New York
  • Ramah Darom, Georgia
  • Ramah Day Camp, New York
  • URJ Camp Harlam, Pennsylvania

“We are thrilled to champion the ambitious plans of our first round of grantees, which meaningfully reflect FJC’s values and aspirations for the field,” says Jeremy Fingerman, CEO of FJC. “Every moment of this process has been filled with the kind of excitement that can only be found on the brink of creating real, substantive change.”

A past FJC-administered survey identified the need for greater accessibility for staff and campers with disabilities as a major barrier to participation in Jewish camps. 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.

“Since its founding, the Weinberg Foundation has provided nearly 80 grants, totaling approximately $6 million, to both Jewish and non-Jewish camps to improve accessibility for campers and staff with disabilities,” said Paula B. Pretlow, Trustee, The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. “This initiative is especially critical because it benefits not only the camps that receive direct funding, but also advances the field with best practice information regarding inclusion models and training for staff. Most important, however,” Pretlow added, “Yashar ensures that all campers are able to access this foundational aspect of a Jewish upbringing.”

Each of the grantees included in this first round of giving was required to independently raise 25 percent of the project’s cost before applying. Each camp will receive money for both 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.

Here are some examples of approved projects:

  • Building or renovating bunks to be more accessible for campers and staff
  • Developing sensory gardens, splash pools, and playgrounds to enhance services of campers with disabilities
  • Improving accessibility for campers with disabilities as part of construction or renovation of communal buildings, such as dining halls and infirmaries
  • Creating new housing to serve vocational training programs that allow campers with disabilities to grow into staff roles at camp

In keeping with the goals of the initiative to promote a greater culture of inclusion, each grant recipient has committed to increasing their total campers with disabilities to at least five percent of the total camper population.

Fingerman added, “We’re buoyed by the knowledge that the best is yet to come, as The Yashar Initiative will not only enable these grant recipients to make wonderful improvements to their camps, but will inspire more camps to consider and implement greater inclusion.”

The Yashar Initiative will accept grant applications again this fall, as well as in the fall of 2020.