November 17, 2018

State Budget Cuts Create Stumbling Block for Special-Needs Kids to Attend Camp Ramah

For 30 years, the Conservative Jewish summer Camp Ramah in the Ojai Valley has provided programming for children and young adults with mental retardation, cerebral palsy, epilepsy and autism. Despite the high costs — around $4000 per camper — families were able to afford the programs through state money allocated to the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) and nonprofit regional centers.

Last July, however, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill that required DDS to reduce its budget by over $300 million, which it did in part by temporarily suspending camping services.

“The budget crisis is striking at one of the pillars of the Ramah community,” said Rabbi Daniel Greyber, executive director of Camp Ramah in California.

The special-needs programs, for 45 kids annually, operate under the name “Tikvah” (the Hebrew word for “hope”) and aim to teach how to lead independent lives enriched by Judaism.

Children and teens engage in art, sports, music and dance activities alongside non-disabled peers, with a high counselor-to-camper ratio. Ramah’s other special-needs program, Ezra, a vocational program for young adults, provides job training and work experience.

Since most special-needs families cannot afford to pay for Ramah on their own, the camp is trying to make up for the money that families were previously getting from the state. The camp must come up with more than $100,000 to maintain the same number of campers.

So far, Ramah has secured an anonymous $50,000 challenge gift.