By Eliana Wool, M.A. and Caitlin McIlwee, M.A.
“Camp friends are forever friends.” This proverb was the first of many pieces of wisdom passed to us throughout our time as counselors at Camp Firefly. We were both eager to be counselors, and, like the campers preparing for session, we wondered what our experience had in store for us. Nothing could have prepared us for how rewarding, fun and unforgettable camp was!
Camp Firefly is a unique overnight camp for children aged 9-18 with a diagnosis of a social disorder, such as autism, Asperger’s, ADHD or social anxiety. Camp Firefly is a program of JCFS Chicago in partnership with JCC Chicago’s Camp Chi in Lake Delton, Wisconsin. It offers a typical camp experience for children and adolescents who would not ordinarily be able to attend overnight camp due to difficulties with social relatedness.
While Camp Firefly is equipped with a therapeutic environment and curriculum to improve a child’s social development, the main focus is for campers to have fun! Camp is structured to create a challenging, but enjoyable environment, while catering to the unique needs of the campers.
The Firefly staff is trained in working with children and teens with social disorders. Each day, campers follow a schedule that includes activities such as radio broadcasting, rock climbing, art, ropes course, swimming and paddle boating. Much like our campers, we both got the opportunity to leave the confines of our busy lives, go outside, get active and have fun. Camp Firefly is a much needed refresher in the joys of being outside and doing activities that nowadays seem rare, such as archery, horseback riding and playing on the inflatables in the lake.
One of the highlights of each session is the talent show. Campers from every cabin are encouraged to participate by showcasing their unique abilities, such as singing, dancing, acting, stand-up comedy, or even reading poetry or an excerpt from a comic book. For campers, this experience encourages them to step outside their comfort zone with the support of their peers and counselors. The talent show truly demonstrates the spirit of the Camp Firefly community that is fostered among campers and staff. When we think back on the talent show, we remember the campers beaming with pride in their performance and enthusiastically cheering each other on.
While we were told “camp friends are forever friends” when we first arrived, watching our campers support each other and laugh with one another made the saying come to life. We truly believe our campers made lasting memories and friendships.