November is Anti-Bullying month and in support of our JCC’s No Place for Hate Initiative, this month’s blog focuses on “Creating a Caring and Inclusive Community – ALL ARE WELCOME HERE.”
Creating an inclusive environment that welcomes all and celebrates individual differences and diversity is an important and effective way to set high expectations and encourage acceptance and understanding from the larger community. A caring, accepting, and inclusive environment benefits everyone, young and old, and there are many “tools and strategies” that can positively promote inclusion.
Making friends and building relationships is often hard for anyone, but research shows that children, teens, and adults with disabilities experience a much higher prevalence of social isolation. They are more vulnerable to bullying and manipulation by their peers. As a result, they need some extra support and strategies to help them identify and cope with difficult situations. Creating an inclusive environment is the vital first step to success because it creates a level playing field where everyone has the opportunity to build friendships and participate in activities together.
Here are some tools and strategies that can help build inclusive environments that foster peer relationships and friendships and teach all of us how we can become a more caring, accepting and empathetic community.
TREAT EVERYONE WITH RESPECT
• Don’t be mean to others
• Stop and think before you say or do something that might hurt someone
• Keep in mind that everyone is different – not better or worse. Recognizing we are all different allows us to be more tolerant, not so quick to judge. And when we stop thinking of people in terms of “us” and “them,” we can really progress to a place of acceptance. The JCC celebrates differences all the time, and is proud to showcase this every February at our annual ART FOR ALL exhibit that features artistic creations of our program participants with disabilities, as well as others across our county in recognition of Jewish Disabilities, Acceptance and Inclusion Month.
PEER SUPPORT MAKES A DIFFERENCE
• Identify peer supports
• Create a buddy program, teaching “buddies” about differences, acceptance and empathy
• Create team-building and leadership activities and “games” that foster friendship, build respect and empathy, and lead to deeper acceptance
• Plan community events that nurture team building and working together. An example here at our JCC is our annual Special Games Field Day, which pairs our disabled athletes with a peer guide so they can compete in a range of games and activities where everyone is a winner!
• Learn skills and strategies that will help you understand how people with different abilities think and see things so you can relate in better and more meaningful ways. Young teens at the JCC participate in our Project CARES Babysitting Training class to learn babysitting strategies so they can become effective role models and responsible babysitters for children with disabilities. This can be an incredibly rewarding experience that builds understanding, respect and tolerance. Teens at the JCC also volunteer in the JCC Sunday Social Skills programs, the KIDS Club, and Camp Haverim, which are all geared for children with disabilities. These teen volunteers often provide the most positive influence on our program participants because the peer connection offers a special extra feeling that really helps them bond.
SCHEDULE PLAY WITH A PURPOSE
Create intentional time to play, which allows children to form and develop friendships naturally over time. It also creates an inclusive environment, which is the ultimate goal. Our JCC provides a full range of opportunities year round to support playing with a purpose.
• Sunday Social Skills Groups
• The Leonard and Syril Rubin Early Childhood Center
• Summer Camp Programs
The Role of the Community: “It takes a village…”
It is the responsibility of all community members to make the commitment to ALL ARE WELCOME HERE. We as a community should always be mindful that everyone needs to be treated with respect and dignity so they can feel welcomed and valued. And if we all keep these simple but important things in mind, we will see positive change where everyone benefits.
Try writing a KINDNESS POEM, a great project initiated from the Kids Against Bullying Activity Book, published by the National Bullying Prevention Center; PACER.org.
“Kindness is something that everyone can share – and it makes a difference. Write a word or line of poetry that starts with each letter in the word KINDNESS and see what you come up with. It can be about helping others, making a difference, or being a good friend.
Written by Shelley Levy, Director, Guttenberg Center for Special Services. Shelly has over thirty years of professional experience working with children, teens and adults with special needs. Bringing a wealth of innovation and expertise to the JCC, she has designed unique curriculum design and developed a wide range of programming for people in our community with “special abilities.”