The Canteen is a tribute to all things Jewish sleepaway camp. Hosted by the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC), this blog is written by campers, alumni, parents, and camp professionals and is a place to talk about parenting, camp fun, projects, crafts, recipes, and more – all tied back to Jewish holidays, traditions and, of course, camp!
Camp has been a magical time for all seven of our children. They’ve had a wide range of experiences from being campers to working as staff. Camp has enlarged my children’s circle of friends as well as provided a variety of new experiences. Shira will be joining her siblings next summer as she goes from being a camper to working at Camp Kaylie.
When Shira was born with Down syndrome, we talked and dreamed about when she would also be able to go to camp. We put those thoughts on the “back burner” as we got caught up in the whirlwind of daily life.
When I asked Shira what is the best part about Camp Kaylie, her immediate response was, “my friends.” Because she is very social, Shira’s life revolves around her friends. When she was little, Shira played ‘skip-it’, Chinese jump rope, and games on the monkey bars with her friends. As they grew older, her friends began to prefer sitting around and schmoozing. Shira learned to schmooze at camp.
The typical girls who pick Camp Kaylie have chosen to be in a camp where they will be living together with girls with special needs. They learn that everyone has something to contribute to the group. The special staff chosen by Camp Kaylie works hard to develop a variety of creative activities appropriate for all. These are group activities where everyone can shine. For example, in one activity each bunk built a boat out of cardboard and duct tape and paddled across the lake. The winning boat the first year in boys half was designed by a boy on the autism spectrum. In another activity campers placed different sized straws together to pour water from a bucket at one end of camp to a bucket at the other. Traditional camp group activities are also an important part of camp; such as “color war.”
In living in a bunk with girls of all abilities, our daughter has grown in her ability to interact with her peers. Living together 24/7, Shira has learned a great deal about maneuvering everyday life. She’s developed a better sense of empathy and awareness of others. When talking with her friends, Shira is tuned into their needs and interests. She knows that when she’s on the phone and a friend says that she needs to go, that it’s time to say a quick “good-bye”. The best part is that her friends reciprocate. We spend a lot of time in the evening answering phone calls for Shira. She speaks with many of her friends each week. Shira also talks with her counselors and with Lisa, her division head. It was fun to hear Shira studying her multiplication tables with her BFF (best friend forever), Yael, and listened as they both celebrated their mutual success. Yael joined us for a family wedding, and she and Shira have stayed at each other’s homes.
Now, Shira is ready to move on and work at camp. After five summers as a camper, Shira is going to be an assistant shallow water lifeguard. She is preparing for her job this year by swimming laps, watching lifeguard videos, reading the lifeguard book and meeting with a lifeguard instructor. Shira is also in contact with Hindy Wein, the Camp Kaylie head lifeguard, to ensure that she’s properly prepared.
When we dreamed about Shira going to camp and having the full experience that her sibling enjoyed, we had no idea if this would even be possible. Camp Kaylie is a unique experience that allows families dreams to come true.
This post was submitted by a Camp Kaylie parent