What Should We Do When Camp Feels Overwhelming?

February is Jewish Disabilities Awareness and Inclusion Month. Join us as we share stories that highlight the impact of inclusion in our camp communities.

Do you know that feeling you get when you drive down the long dirt road towards the entrance of camp? As you get closer and see the trees, smell the raw nature, and feel the excitement? It’s hard not to get butterflies in your stomach as you approach the front gates of camp.

I still get butterflies every time I turn down Perryville road driving towards the entrance of Tamarack Camps.

I know others get that feeling too, driving into their camp. There is just something so special about overnight camp. It’s as if your senses know that you are gearing up for something amazing.

Years after I worked at Tamarack as a college student, I felt disconnected from my camp community. During my summers not at camp, I would think about and be reminded of camp constantly. Every time I spent time outside I would be reminded of camp. A leaf would blow in just the right way or a smell would waft by me, and I would be flooded with a camp memory.

When I learned Tamarack Camps was looking to expand their commitment to exceptional inclusion programming, I practically leapt at the chance to interview. I remember trying to explain in words why working at camp again was so important to me and struggling to adequately communicate my excitement. My feelings for camp go so far beyond words.

Now, as I approach my 3rd summer in this role, I feel blessed to have the unique pleasure of watching campers become transformed by camp. They gain independence, friendships, have endless opportunities to stretch themselves, and push past their limits to feel more at peace than they may feel the other 341 days of the year.

Our support structure at Tamarack Camps works beautifully in extending this experience to our campers with disabilities. But I found myself asking, what should we do when camp is just too much?
What do we do when camp stops feeling welcoming and only feels overwhelming? Or when the very sights, sounds and smells that make camp so special cause one of our sensory- sensitive campers to become overloaded and lose the ability to be their best self?

It was clear we needed to create an escape when situations like this arise. We needed to create a safe, quiet place at camp for those who desperately needed time to take a break from the very long camp day. This is how the idea for the Sensory Garden was born!

Through the generosity of the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Innovative Engagement Initiative we’ve started to plan for our Sensory Garden, which will come alive the summer of 2017.

The Sensory Garden will be located in an area of camp with little foot traffic, though it’ is close enough to be quickly accessible throughout our campers’ days. Campers will be able to explore their senses through music, textures, tastes, color, and sounds in their own ways at their own paces.

As the summer is approaching, I dream about implementing this exciting opportunity. In the Sensory Garden I hope to build our own life-sized Zen garden with soothing sand, dirt, and rocks for the campers to explore. Garden boxes will be built at different levels so campers can choose to explore on whatever level best suites them.

Sometimes a camper may want to do nothing at all but sit and be calm. Most importantly, there will be shade, peace, and quiet. The space will be open-ended and experiential in its programming so every camper, even those who are not part of our inclusion program, can create their very own individual sensory experience.

Our young adult vocational program for those with disabilities (Avodah) will be the curators of this experience and guide campers through these stations as well as manage the garden’s upkeep.

Tamarack Camps is very excited for what’s to come this summer, and especially with the new Sensory Garden.

Master of the Universe, grant me the ability to be alone.
May it be my custom to go outdoors each day among the trees and grasses,
Among all growing things,
There to be alone and enter into prayer.
There may I express all that is in my heart,
Talking with Him to whom I belong.
And may all grasses, trees and plants
Awake at my coming.
Send the power of their life into my prayer,
Making whole my heart and my speech through the life and spirit of growing things,
Made whole by their transcendent Source.
Oh! That they would enter my prayer!
Then would I fully open my heart in prayer, supplication and holy speech;
Then, O God, would I pour out the words of my heart before Your Presence.
– Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav’s [Hasidic leader, 1770-1811] Prayer


Franki joined the Tamarack Camps team in February of 2015, as the Director of Support Services and Special Needs. She has been a part of the Tamarack Camps for over thirty years as a camper and staff member. Prior to joining the year-round team at Tamarack Camps, Franki worked as a Special Needs teacher and consultant.  She graduated from Wayne State with a Masters in learning disabilities and Michigan State University with a BA in Elementary Education. Franki, her husband and their three kids love spending their summers at camp.

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