Building a more inclusive STEM pipeline with Melwood’s Camp Accomplish
May 1, 2023
Original Article: WTOP
For anyone who participated in summer camp as a kid, you know it’s one of those formative, memorable experiences. With the opportunity for exploration, activity, connection with nature and lifelong friendships, there are so many things that, as parents, you are weighing in deciding the right camp where your child can feel safe, seen and supported.
Add to that the layer of disability – unfortunately, the current precedent for camp and kids with disabilities mirrors much of what we see in the workplace and culture: scarce options, separated from others.
25 years ago, Melwood, a leading employer, advocate and preferred provider for people with disabilities, decided to do something to close this gap – envisioning a summer camp experience where kids with and without disabilities could learn, play, explore, discover and connect side-by-side in an inclusive environment. Over the last two and a half decades, thousands of campers with and without disabilities have come to Camp Accomplish, raising up the next generation to embrace inclusion in the workplace, community and culture.
This year, CGI, one of the largest IT and business consulting firms worldwide, is powering Camp Accomplish’s first science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) specialty camp, which will be offered July 31 to Aug. 4.
“Here at CGI, we view this partnership with Melwood’s Camp Accomplish as crucial to the future of the
STEM workforce,” said Brigitte Custer, Vice President and Disability & Neurodiversity Advocates (DNA) employee resource group Community Lead at CGI.
CGI has developed a customized STEM Week curriculum, giving children with and without disabilities the opportunity to engage in hands-on learning and activities in different STEM fields — this year’s focus is an opportunity for younger individuals to explore STEM and start them off in what could blossom into a future in technology.
“One of the things that we’ve really built out, and we are continuing to build out further as part of the camp experience, is threading that needle for job development at an early age,” said Brooksi Bottari, director of Veterans and Wraparound Services at Melwood. “That’s the foundation of Melwood – workforce development and independence for people with disabilities, and we know that an inclusionary approach is most effective when we start young.”
CGI’s innovative curriculum will provide the tools to create a more engaged, inclusive and talented workforce for the future.
“I think it’s going to be a really amazing opportunity to begin to identify interests and cultivate skillsets early,” Bottari said. “This is really a pipeline to create a more inclusive, innovative STEM workforce that leverages the passions, perspectives, skills and talents of people with disabilities.”
Melwood’s job training program abilIT is also contributing to this vision, preparing people with disabilities for careers in technology, providing critical certification and soft skills training.
Custer said that while any person, regardless of disability status, can succeed in STEM, it is part of CGI’s mission to ensure that these career paths are open and accessible for individuals with disabilities.
“This diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility effort has been a top priority for CGI,” shared Custer. “Our partnership with Melwood through Camp Accomplish aims to convey this message to any child, with or without a disability, who dreams of one day entering a career in science, technology, engineering and math.”
Camp Accomplish continues to be a leader in fostering a truly inclusive and supportive camp environment that meets every child where they are – and provides an opportunity for families to go to camp together, instead of being separated based on disability.
One camp family has four children – some with disabilities and some without – and Camp Accomplish is the first place where the parents felt comfortable sending all of their children, knowing they would be welcomed, included, and encouraged to explore their interests.
“It’s open to all children, but also does a great job with disabilities,” said the mother. “They’re all able to go to the same camp together and have a great experience.” This has led to her children and family continuing to strengthen their bond and make memories together.
Another impact to their family is the respite it provides to both parents.
“When you have a child that is so high energy and high need, you can never be not vigilant. You have to be on hyper alert always,” the mother said, adding that it’s an “incredible gift of respite for our hearts” knowing that their child is well-cared for.
The parents also noted the camper-to-counselor ratio is high, which makes a big difference for every camper. Another thing that helps is the accommodations built in the facilities, including a new playground accessible to people in wheelchairs and planters on raised beds for those participating in horticultural activities.
Camp Accomplish runs day and overnight options Monday to Friday from June 26 to Aug. 18, with swimming and canoeing, ropes course challenges, creative arts, sports, equestrian activities and more. STEM Week, powered by CGI, is open July 31 to Aug. 4. More information on Camp Accomplish and the programs available this summer can be found on the Camp Accomplish website.
“It actually is giving me chills right now to think about these kids and seeing them develop and begin to learn, begin to learn how to interact with other people, begin to learn emotional regulation. It’s really, really a beautiful thing,” Bottari said. “We’re so grateful to partner with CGI to bring this customized curriculum to life and nurture kids’ interest in exciting career paths for the future.”
Melwood is one of the largest employers of people with disabilities in the country, employing more than 1,600 workers – nearly 1,000 of whom are people with disabilities. Melwood offers job placement, job training, life skills for independence, and support services to more than 2,500 people each year in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Melwood also has an inclusive summer camp program for children and provides employment and support services to veterans and active-duty military members who have experienced service-related trauma or injury. For more information, visit www.Melwood.org.
Vice President of Government and Public Relations