A Culture of Inclusion

Most of us have had the experience of walking into a room full of strangers with some trepidation. Will I fit in? Will I be accepted? Will I be successful in this endeavor? Having a sense of belonging is a basic human need. Feeling included not only sets us up for success but can also lead to healthy developments in self-identity and a sense of empathy for others. Conversely, exclusion can truly hurt; especially for children with serious illness who are often left out of traditional childhood experiences.

At Double H Ranch, we understand the importance of belonging. We also know that creating a culture of inclusion does not happen overnight. Our Operations Team are experts in creating intentional programs in which all campers can participate. Starting in 2019, Assistant Camp Director Chris “Pezz” Pezzulo has worked closely with students of the Design Lab at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, New York to develop an innovative chair for the high ropes course. Currently, campers who use wheelchairs, walkers, or other mobility devices have the option to utilize a customized bucket seat to safely participate in the course. The new chair improves on this seat with features such as added padding for comfort and safety, adjustable head, foot, and arm rests to accommodate campers’ unique sizing, designated space for an easily accessible oxygen tank and ventilator, and a four-wheeled carriage for ease of movement on the wooded terrain around the course.

Camp’s inclusive environment is also created through the compassion and support from counselors and volunteers. “Challenge By Choice” are words that we train and live by. This simple phrase grants everyone control of their camp experience by choosing how to participate. When a cabin goes to the high ropes course, one camper may go straight to the top, another may cautiously try out the practice wire, while a third decides to cheer on cabin mates from the ground. All three campers have the support needed to participate, the power to choose what that looks like, and the encouragement of their counselors and volunteers so they leave the course feeling successful.

When campers feel included, their self-acceptance grows. During a recent Diversity, Equity & Inclusion survey of our stakeholders, one camper shared, “Double H is a place where you can express yourself and who you are without judgment.” Another told us, “Camp allows me to be my true self; it is a judgment-free environment. With everyone so genuinely happy and excited to be there, you never have to shy away of who you are in this magical place!”

We’ve also seen the impact of inclusion reach far beyond the Double H gates. When alumni campers were surveyed by the SeriousFun Children’s Network last year, they credited camp experiences
with having a lasting influence on their lives…

90% said they developed a willingness to try new things
88% said they developed an appreciation for diversity
86% said they developed a sense of self-identity
86% said they developed a sense of empathy and compassion
85% said they developed self-confidence

For thirty years, Double H Ranch has been a symbol of belonging but that does not mean our work is done. Inclusion is a moving target for which we must always be practicing. As we venture into the next thirty years, we are eager to continue learning and expand our own understanding so that we may better serve all who encounter Double H Ranch, on-site or in the greater community. In
the meantime, whether you are taking on the high ropes course this summer, see our booth at your local farmer’s market, or are eagerly waiting to get back on the snow-covered ski hill—know you are welcome just as you are.

By Eileen Nash, Director of Development &
Julia Martini, Creative Engagement Director