Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ramapo: A Special Program

We are often reluctant to write about a program that is very small, or hasn't been around very long. But we are making an exception for a unique program for young people 18 and up who are struggling to take the next step to college or the workplace.

The Staff Assistant Program at Ramapo for Children is only a couple of years old, although Ramapo for Children  was founded in 1922. The mission of the larger organization is  "to serve children with a wide range of emotional, behavioral and learning disabilities in a dynamic and stimulating outdoor environment ... with adventure-based, experiential learning programs that promote positive character values, build social and learning competencies, and enhance self-esteem." During the summer, the camp program has several sessions of one, two, and three week programs. During much of the school year the camp is used by a variety of schools, public and private, for retreats that teach skill building and leadership skills to students of all ability levels.

The Staff Assistant Program operates from March through November on a rolling admissions basis. Young people and their families need to make a minimum 12 week commitment. The Staff Assistants function as assistants to counselors and other employees of Ramapo, all the time being mentored on a one-to-one basis by a skilled professional staff that really "gets it". The Staff Assistants are paid a weekly stipend (which comes out of the fees paid by their families; the only drawback to this program is that it is expensive, with annualized costs similar to attendance at a top college). They learn the nuts and bolts of managing their lives, working on everything that has tripped them up in their past endeavors -- time management, social interactions, budgeting, working skills -- yet they also have the chance to work with youngsters whose needs generally exceed their own. When the summer program is not in session, the Staff Assistants have more time to work on additional skills -- taking a course at the local community college, learning to drive, working at a part-time job in town, or participating in a community based organization, such as community theater. 

This all sounds pretty basic, but for young people who have graduated from high school and haven't been able to succeed in college or in the workplace choices can be very limited. And a place where these young adults can work with extraordinary staff and learn to help themselves by helping others can be a key step to their future success. 

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