Finishing up the school year. Packing up my classroom for students with autism. Getting my twins ready to start summer camp. About a thousand calls and emails to rearrange our weekly therapies to fit into our new summer schedule. Making sure the day camp staff knows about Ross’ needs. Preparing my lessons for the summer school program I will be teaching in a couple of weeks. Planning the twins’ birthday party. Preparations for my brother’s wedding. Squeezing in regular summer fun like going to the pool and playing outside. Scheduling yet another evaluation for Ross.
This is what summer means for our family. We are busy, always. The reality of life as a single mom of two kids with disabilities, is that everyday things are just a bit more hectic, life is just a bit more amped up and everything takes a bit more planning. It is so worth it, though. Every single time my kids succeed at a new skill, experience a new environment, or just giggle, I am reminded how very worth it is. The chaos has meaning, the goals are clear. I am working hard to give them everything they need, and much of what they want. Sometimes, though, it is hard to remember to slow down and appreciate what we have, what we have accomplished, how far we have come. There are always new treatment plans, new goals, new challenges. Always, always more work to be done. It is important, though, to stop. To breathe. To feel. To be proud.
For our family, Camp Yofi at Ramah Darom is that oasis. During our time at Camp Yofi, all we have to focus on is having fun. There are no goals, no therapies, no standards to meet. There is simply acceptance of each individual for who they are, for the joy each brings and the creation of true chaverim (friends). During the year, when things get stressful, as they often do, my boys and I frequently talk about Camp Yofi and how much we’re looking forward to our return. Quite often, Riley bursts into song, singing with his sweet little voice and poorly articulated R’s and S’s. “Yofi is the place I want to be…Yofi is the place for you and me.”
At Yofi, every single moment of the day and night, is structured to make sure that every participant is safe and happy. It feels as if a world has been created that perfectly fits our kids with autism, rather than trying so desperately hard to have our kids with autism fit into the world, as we do year-round. The human chain of counselors that so casually, and yet so vigilantly, is formed around outdoor activities provides a sense of safety that is unheard of for many families of kids with autism. The supervised playrooms after meals, allowing adults to finish eating and even (gasp!) have a conversation is a blessing. The awareness of sensory needs, communication differences, the need for routine and structure are all embedded in every part of every day.
As a result of all of this careful planning and preparation, there is a feeling created at Camp Yofi that is so powerful and yet difficult to describe. There are intense, meaningful friendships created between the families, between parents who recognize others who are on the same journey. There are families who have been coming to Yofi together for several years, who look forward to seeing one another each summer. There are new families, like we were last year, who soon fall under the spell that is Yofi. In this age of social media, families use Facebook to connect year round, to share our joys with people who truly get it. Yofi provides a place, a time, an experience like nothing else in our lives. From the moment we headed home last summer, we have been counting the month and weeks and days until we return. Camp Yofi is the place we want to be.
Melissa Ringold is the proud mom of twin boys and an Autistic Support Teacher in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. Learn more about Ramah programs for children, teens, and young adults with disabilities.
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