Jeremy Millman wakes up every day and asks his mother when he can go back to Beber Camp. A 21-year-old with developmental disabilities, Jeremy has discovered his happy place in an inclusion program at the independent Jewish summer camp in Mukwonago, about 20 miles southwest of Milwaukee
“It’s the best thing that ever happened to Jeremy,” said his mother Amy Millman, a high school educator who lives in Buffalo Grove, Ill. “Beber Camp gave him the opportunity to explore on his own, independently, in a completely safe environment.”
The 12-year-old program accommodated 13 special-needs campers during each of two four-week sessions last summer. The camp typically hosts 300 to 350 campers per session.
“We believe that campers should be able to have access to camp regardless of abilities,” said Debbie Morris, assistant director for community care. The campers’ disabilities include autism, cerebral palsy and learning, behavior and emotional challenges, she said.
Parents, like the Millmans, are “extremely supportive and grateful to find a Jewish home for their children,” Morris said.
Campers in the inclusion program are assigned a one-on-one counselor. That person works with the whole bunk, but knows how to assist someone with extra needs, said Morris, who is a licensed clinical social worker.
Campers, like Jeremy, eventually graduate out of the program and become staff assistants. They continue to work on vocational and life skills, and “give back by adding value to our community,” Morris said.
Jack Bender, Beber’s inclusion supervisor, was Jeremy Millman’s individual counselor in 2017. “It was a wonderful experience for him to be there for the entire time,” said Bender, a seventh-grade social studies teacher in the Madison area. “He is a great person who really just enjoys being around people, being present, having fun and getting the socialization experience that oftentimes people with disabilities don’t get.”
Bender studied elementary education and special education at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. This was his 11th summer at Beber, the sixth working on staff. He said he is motivated to “create inclusive spaces and create ways for all kids to thrive and be a part of the community in camp or in class.”
Some counselors have no professional training and just want to work with campers with a disability. Others on staff are pursuing careers in teaching, social work, speech pathology and related education fields. Whatever their background, “the staff is trained specifically to meet the needs of their particular camper,” Morris said.
Jeremy Millman just completed his 10th year at Beber. This summer, he handed out snacks and helped with the coffee cart. He especially liked riding in the ski boat and sitting on the tractor, his mother said.
Amy Millman worked as an office manager at camp this summer and got a first-hand look at the inclusion program. “I’ve really been able to see that love that everybody has for Jeremy,” she said. “Beber Camp has given my husband and me the ability to see that we could let go a little and he was going to be OK.”
Beber Camp can be reached at Bebercamp.com, 800-803-CAMP or firstname.lastname@example.org.