By Jay Ruderman
Kudos to David Ogul who did a thorough and sensitive job profiling one child and family whose lives are touched in profound and lasting ways by the growing trend toward Jewish summer camps that service children with special needs. Ogul also gives an in-depth exploration of how and why this field is on the upswing and reminds us of how many ways there are to truly transform the lives of those among us who live with disabilities every day, 12 months a year.
We include here an excerpt of Ogul’s excellent San Diego Jewish Journal article and one of his parent-friendly lists of camps serving children with special needs, as well a link to the full article. You may also be interested in what Following Ezra author Tom Fields-Meyer has to say here. Fields-Meyer is one of several thought-leaders to be featured at ADVANCE, our funders conference scheduled for December 6 in New York City.
Special Camps for Special Kids
By David Ogul
For the family of Brandon Levine, a New Yorker who was diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was 3, who suffered from seizure disorders in the years that followed and who dealt with learning disabilities all his life, the Yachad Program at Camp Morasha was a godsend.
It was here, in Pennsylvania’s peaceful Pocono Mountains that Brandon, now 20, polished his davening skills, honed his love of Jewish life and took part in a variety of sports through a program designed for special-needs children.
“For us, as parents, to have a program over the summer where our son is being properly watched and taken care of 24 hours a day was a great thing,” says Brandon’s father, Danny Levine, who owns a Judaica store in Manhattan. “For Brandon, to be in a camp where he is having fun, having a great time and being with a larger Jewish community was just wonderful.”
When a child is a healthy, well-adjusted, rambunctious tyke, finding a summer camp that suits his or her needs can be no more difficult than embarking on a Google search. But when a child is fighting cancer, struggling with autism or living with Down syndrome, options can be more limited and the search more daunting.
That, however, is changing.
Responding to the growing demand of parents raising special-needs children, an increasing number of agencies have created or refined programs that enable handicapped youth to forget about their challenges while enjoying the Jewish camping experience.
“It’s a great way to help make these kids grow and for them to get the most they can out of life,” Levine says.
Virtually every branch of Judaism now has a camp that offers programs for special needs children. In many cases, these kids spend part of the day within their own group while enjoying sports, synagogue services and sandwiches with children who are not living with physical or emotional challenges. Other camps are created specifically for children with special needs.
Note: The following is Ogul’s list of several camps that are exclusively for children with special needs.
• Camp Simcha (www.chailifeline.org), in Glen Spey, N.Y.
• Camp HASC (www.hasc.net/camp), in the Catskills
• Round Lake Camp (www.roundlakecamp.org), a NJY Camp in Lakewood, Penn.
• Camp Yaldei (www.yaldei.org/summerCamp.asp), in Wentworth-Nord, Quebec, Canada.
Parents can visit http://www.jewishcamp.org/camps and click “Special Needs” in the search tool.