Camp is now the Beacon of Hope for Individuals with Special Needs
by Allison Davis
The biggest fear a family member has for a child with special needs is his or her future. For children with special needs, the future is never certain nor concrete. Academic programs, extracurricular activities and anything that supports our friends with special needs, are constantly being reshaped. Eligibility is redefined, funding is dropped and the future is unpredictable. But, here at camp, a place I never would have thought to be the constant for individuals like my campers, there is Tikvah, and there is hope.
As our Tikvah journey at Ramah Darom has just finished its second summer , we have already built the fort of hope for our entire community, including our chanichim supported by Tikvah, our chanichim not supported by Tikvah, our entire tzevet, and the families of our chanichim supported by Tikvah.
Our chanichim supported by Tikvah now have a Jewish community of peers and role models where they can accomplish feats that they and their home communities may have never thought possible. Some examples of this include: reading Torah, participating in the plays and nachsho live, going on overnight field trips and camping trips, climbing the wall, tower, odyssey, and playing in a hockey or basketball game with the rest of the eidah. The list goes on and will continue to grow as our campers supported by Tikvah strive. Our tzevet continues to support and push these campers to conquer their fears, and our campers continue to support one another in every one of their endeavors both in and outside of camp.
As a counselor, I lived for the moments when our campers had natural interactions with their peers. These interactions were always a two-way street. The campers that Tikvah supported thrived on being with their peers. For many of them, the interactions they had with other campers this summer were unlike the ones they had in their school settings during the year. The campers not supported by Tikvah were also on the receiving end. Throughout this summer, I noticed more kindness, acceptance, and gratitude than I ever have seen in my nine summers at camp. I’m not just speaking for my campers supported by Tikvah, but all throughout camp, chanichim were more open about their differences and being themselves in our community. Maybe it took the visibility of Tikvah for this openness and gradual acceptance of our differences to make it into our Ramah Darom culture. But, I most certainly got a taste of this culture change as Tikvah supported campers in Kohavim, Shoafim, Nachshonim, Nivonim, and Gesher this summer.
This summer, I saw so much goodness through Tikvah from every member of our Darom tzevet. We can’t thank the staff enough for their support; from teaching us sports to swimming and climbing, to dancing and singing, and to simply hanging out with us and encouraging goodness among their own campers. As I mentioned above, the list goes on and will continue to go on as we continue on this journey powered by Tikvah, powered by hope.
Finally, for the families of those supported by Tikvah, camp has become that beacon of hope. These campers will now always belong to a community regardless of stage in life because of the connections they made with other chanichim, tzevet, with the beautiful surroundings of Camp Ramah Darom, and most notably the camp environment of inclusion in a strong Jewish community.
As a family member of somebody supported by Tikvah, this community that my family member has been included in is unlike any other community in my sister’s life. My sister and I did not have the opportunity to attend the same school, so when I began attending camp it never occurred to me that this would be an option for my sister. My sister became a part of camp long before she enrolled last summer, as my camp friends became her friends. But then last summer when she arrived at camp and made her own camp memories and friendships, I understood what if felt like to truly share my second home with her. I see the changes in her Jewishly, as reading torah on Shabbat is a new skill that she has gained. I also see the changes in her sense of belonging as she constantly refers to herself as a member of Gesher ’16, as she is. I love that when I refer to a Ramah/Hebrew word, she knows intuitively to what I am referring. Whenever I say “Lilah Tov,” Sarah responds with, “Lilah Tov Banot!”
I said it last summer when my sister spent her first summer at Ramah Darom and this summer I can say it again with full confidence: Tikvah is a dream come true for my family, for my sister, and for all of the campers supported by Tikvah and their families. Let’s continue to be that beacon of hope, of Tikvah, for each other and all members of our Ramah Darom and the entire Ramah community.
The Henry and Annette Gibson Tikvah Program at Ramah Darom is supported by generous grants from the The Ruderman Family Foundation, as well as many other sponsoring foundations and individual donors.