Applications for Summer 2020 are now closed.  To be placed on a waitlist, please fill out our Inclusion Inquiry.

If you are not sure if your camper would be considered part of the inclusion program, please contact us. The inclusion program is not a separate camp or group and there is no extra fee. Instead, the program is a way to coordinate any extra support or accommodations campers need within their camp or group.

What is our philosophy?

  • Our program is one of the only in the country to be accredited as an inclusive program by the National Inclusion Project.
  • We believe that every child can succeed, every child can participate, and every child can make friends. We believe that inclusion is good for everyone – kids with and without disabilities, families, staff, and our community!
  • Camp Shelanu received grant funding from NIP from 2012-2014, and is now funded through individual donations and program revenues.  We are committed to not passing program expenses along to families of campers with a disability.

Who is eligible for the Inclusion Program?

  • Campers ages 5-14. Too old? Check out our Camp Explore program for high school-aged campers with disabilities.
  • Campers with many kinds of disabilities are welcome. The largest proportion of campers in the inclusion program the last few years have been on the autism spectrum, but we have also supported campers with hearing and vision impairments, cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome, ADHD, sensory processing disorder, and others. Our building and pool are fully wheelchair accessible.
  • We do not provide one-on-one staffing. Campers need to be able to change clothes, eat, and toilet independently. While inclusion staff give individual support when campers need it, each inclusion staff person serves 2-4 campers, often in different groups, and campers need to be able to participate in activities in a group of about 16 campers without an inclusion staff person for most of the day.  Campers may bring their own support person, provided that person passes a criminal background check and reads and signs our Code of Conduct.
  • We prioritize the safety of all of our campers. If a camper harms themselves or others, or cannot participate in our program safely even with extra support from our staff, Camp Shelanu may not be able to accommodate your child.
  • If your camper has a physical, developmental, social/emotional, or behavioral concern and you are not sure if he/she would be considered as part of the inclusion program, please contact us. We can help determine if there are accommodations or supports that would benefit your child.  In general, any child with an IEP, 504 plan, Functional Behavior Assessment and/or a Behavioral Intervention Plan would be considered part of the program.
  • Please note, camp is different from school!  Some campers may have a hard time at school and do much better at camp, with a lack of academic pressures, more preferred activities, and more movement.  Other campers may have a smooth year at school, and struggle with camp, with weekly changes in adults and peers, more unstructured time, and more transitions and unpredictability.

Who might be a good fit for this program?

  • Campers who might be a good fit include those who:
    • are partially or fully mainstreamed in school who need social or sensory support
    • are in self-contained classrooms, and who might have limited verbal skills or use a communication device at school, but do not have behavior challenges or personal care needs
    • enjoy being in large groups of new peers for much of the day, who may need some breaks from the group
    • do well with multiple transitions each day and some level of unpredictability
    • have physical disabilities who need a wheelchair-accessible building and pool with ramp or beach entry
  • Campers who might be successful if they are bringing their own support person include those who:
    • need help with personal care (eating, toileting, dressing)
    • need to be away from a large group for significant amounts of time throughout the day
    • need one-on-one support to understand and follow a group plan
    • struggle with transitions and unpredictability
  • Campers who would not be successful include those who:
    • would benefit from a therapeutic camp rather than an inclusion model
    • are not able to or do not want to be in large groups much of the day
    •  cannot fulfill our Behavior Agreement, including those who self-injure, have aggressive behaviors with adults or peers, who run away in an unsafe way, or whose impulse control challenges prevent them from being safe in a community center setting.

What kinds of services or accommodations are available?

  • Campers can apply for any camp and group.  There are not separate groups for campers in the inclusion program.
  • All counselors are trained on our inclusion philosophy and on making each group inclusive. Inclusion staff float among groups to provide support to campers when and where they are needed –each inclusion staff person serves multiple campers/groups.
  • We plan our programming with the campers in the inclusion program in mind. Many of these adjustments benefit ALL of our campers, such as balancing competitive activities with cooperative ones, providing options, and giving simple and clear directions.
  • We plan supports on a case by case basis. Examples of supports for campers have included:
    • Visual, and sensory aids (picture schedules, timers, fidgets, noise-cancelling headphones)
    • Information ahead of time – schedules, touring the building, meeting staff, social stories for drop off, etc.
    • Behavior management plans and reward charts
    • A quiet space campers can choose to go to for brief breaks, scheduled breaks in the day away from the group
    • Staff support with instructions, rules, etc.
    • Help with transitions, transitioning before the group
    • Arranging time and space for outside OT/PT/speech providers to work with campers during the day
    • Communicating with teachers or therapy providers at end of summer to help with school year planning
  • We strive to have campers with special needs participate as fully as possible with typically developing peers. We call it the “aid and fade” model – staff give support where needed and then allow campers to continue to participate as independently as they are able.
  • What we are not able to offer at this time
    • One-on-one staffing
    • Small-group options (camp groups are typically 16 campers with 2 counselors)
    • Therapeutic interventions

How will we plan for my camper? What kind of communication can I expect?

  • You will fill out the online health and information form that all campers complete as well as an Inclusion Questionnaire in May. Our Inclusion Facilitator, Assistant Inclusion Facilitator, or Camp Manager will be in touch with each family by email, phone, and/or in person to gather more information about your child, discuss plans for support at camp, and answer any questions you have. This typically occurs in May.
  • You will be invited to an Inclusion Open House before the start of camp where you can meet Inclusion staff, tour the building, and receive social stories for various aspects of camp.
  • If your child has an IEP, 504 plan, Functional Behavior Assessment and/or a Behavioral Intervention Plan, we will request copies. We can also speak with teachers, OT/PT/Speech therapists , or other people who work with your child if you think it would help us better serve your camper or there are things you are working on in school/therapies you’d like for us to reinforce at camp.
  • Staff can also meet with you during the program to make adjustments to support strategies.
  • Communication plans are also on a case by case basis! Some families prefer email, some prefer phone, some prefer to touch base at pick up – we try to do what is best for each family, within staff’s capacity.
  • Please remember that in general, no news is good news!

Who are the Inclusion Staff?

  • Our Camper Care Coordinator and other inclusion leadership staff are specifically hired to work with children with special needs. They have backgrounds in special education, or a related field, and/or other life experiences that provide them with the necessary skill set. Inclusion Counselors are typically mature college students with an interest and experience with inclusion. Additional training is provided and required for all inclusion staff.
  • All counselors, not just inclusion staff, receive training in inclusion.
  • All of our staff must participate in an application, interview, and background check process, and receive training in working with campers, planning accommodations, and sexual abuse prevention, and are CPR and First Aid certified

What if my child has behavioral issues at camp?

  • We will work with each camper and family to be as proactive as possible through support strategies, program accommodations, positive behavioral management strategies, and redirection. Behavior challenges will be documented and shared with the family. If your child exhibits aggressive behavior that is harmful to staff, other campers, or themselves, your child may need to be picked up immediately, asked to stay home until a new plan can be put in place, or asked to leave the program. We will work with a child as much as possible to ensure a successful experience.
  • If you or the camp staff feel that Camp Shelanu cannot adequately support your child or your child is not able to participate safely, we will meet with you to discuss the situation, and we will refund your tuition prorated for any days attended.
  • Campers in the inclusion program are subject to the same Behavior Agreement as all campers at Camp Shelanu. Click here for more details.
  • Please note, if you are relying on camp for childcare, and you have concerns that your child may not be able to meet our Behavior Agreement, we recommend you consider having a back up plan in place.

How do I apply?

  • The application asks for demographic information, information about your camper, a Professional Questionnaire to be filled out by a teacher, therapist, etc, and requests for which camps and week you would like to attend. We will make every effort to accommodate as many campers as possible for as many weeks as possible within our capacity to serve campers safely and effectively. Returning campers will be given priority, and space is limited.
  • Financial aid is also available on a need-basis.  Click here for more information.

Still have questions?

  • We are happy to talk with you! Contact Director of Engagement Madeline Seltman at or 919-354-4938.

What are families saying?

  • “Having a successful inclusion experience for our son also makes us, as a family, feel like we are included in the larger community.”
  • “My child also progressed as the weeks went on and clearly benefited from spending more time with his normal tracking peers.”
  • “My son’s success at camp this summer has been due largely to the incredible attention everyone at the JCC paid to ensuring his inclusion in every activity… we know that everyone at Camp Shelanu wanted him to succeed, to grow, and to have fun.”
  • “We have had a tough time finding a camp that would be able to meet his needs. I couldn’t imagine I would be lucky enough to find a camp that would meet my older son’s needs and be a great experience for his younger brother too.”
  • “We can’t thank you enough for opening your hearts and doing the hard work necessary to include kids like mine and all the other children with ASD and other special needs in your camp. We can’t thank you enough for the fantastic inclusive camp experience!”

How can I help?

  • Click here to donate, or contact Director of Engagement Madeline Seltman at or 919-354-4938 for information on corporate sponsorship or other ways to get involved.

For more information about BRIDGES, the JCC’s initiative for people with special needs, click here.