Thursday, March 21, 2019

In the course of five days, at marathon pace, Project S.A.R.A.H’s Camp Safety Program presented their expanded program to over 700 counselors at nine community day camps including Camp 613, Camp Kef, Summer Playland, Union Y, Camp Regesh, Camp Acheinu, Moshava Ba’ir, Passaic Clifton Playgroup and Camp Kesser Malka. According to Rabbi Michael Bleicher, LCSW, assistant director of Jewish Family Service and Children’s Center of Clifton Passaic, and director of the Camp Safety Project, “During the week preceding camp openings, through morning, afternoon and often evening sessions, camp administrators, directors, division heads and counselors were 

guided through a comprehensive safety program by an exceptional team of 10 licensed therapists. It was a Herculean effort but the results will be a safe and secure summer for thousands of our children.”

Utilizing a PowerPoint presentation, the program is divided into two units. Unit 1 deals with “Recognizing and Responding to Abuse,” which manifests itself through symptoms of neglect, physical, emotional/psychological and sexual abuse and bullying. Staff is sensitized to the subtle hints at disclosure made by the child, and keys to sensitively handling a disclosure are suggested. Paramount is the reporting of the disclosure to supervisors and following up to see that the issue has been addressed.

Unit 2, which has been expanded over the 10 years that the course has been offered, deals with “Camp Staff Behavioral Guidelines.” These guidelines deal with staff-camper interactions as well as staff-staff interactions. Staff is guided in issues including privacy with an individual camper, physical contact for hygienic purposes, touching in an expression of encouragement or sharing private information and secrets. Counselors are urged to be aware as well of the behavior of their peers in these areas. The key phrase repeated in both units is “Bump it up,” report any signs of inappropriateness between staff and campers or staff and staff immediately to supervisors for proper intervention and handling.

A more recent component of the program deals with the “self-awareness” of the staff members themselves. The program guides camp staff in being aware of any feelings that they may be struggling with that may impact their interaction with campers. They are encouraged to be attentive to signals their bodies are sending them and to respond to them responsibly by seeking some down time or by sharing their feelings with a supervisor.

Sessions were presented to small groups to allow for greater involvement. Every session ended with a series of scenarios to which the staff was asked to respond. Staff was asked to explain how they would react and act in a responsible way based upon what they had learned in the presentations.

According to Rabbi Bleicher, “In choosing day camps in our area, it was a great comfort to parents to know that the camps they chose had zero-tolerance policies concerning the issues of emotional safety for their children in addition to issues of physical safety. It put parents at ease to know that camps take a holistic approach to emotional health as well as diet and physical health. Personally, as a parent, it gave me peace of mind to know that my children’s counselors had been properly trained to handle any issues that may arise.”

Project S.A.R.A.H. is looking to expand their Camp Safety Program to other New Jersey area camps. Please call Project S.A.R.A.H at 973-777-7638 for more information.

By Pearl Markovitz