by Melissa (Mimi) Goldberg
At JJCFS Chicago’s Glick Family Camp, parents, their children with disabilities and siblings enjoy a family-oriented, nature-filled camp experience – together! The camp is offered once each spring at Jewish Community Youth Services Camp Henry Horner/Camp Red Leaf in Ingleside, Illinois. The weekend is filled with a variety of social, creative, recreational and supportive activities. A family camp worker is assigned to each family.
I started to go to family camp when I was about 5 years old. My sister has cerebral palsy, and she is three years older than me. Ever since I was little it has always meant so much to me to go. It was always a place we could go where there were other kids like you. You make friends that are in similar situations as you, they understand what you go through.
Growing up we also had sibshop during camp, so we all could talk about problems we have and bond. It was just really nice to have people who can truly understand what you go through, and give you advice. I made lots of friends at camp, and would look forward to going every time to see them. I even hung out with some of them outside of camp, and I still am friends with two of the guys who also now work at camp. I knew I wanted to work at camp when I go old enough to, because I just loved going and wanted other kids to have a good time and be able to relax and have fun.
As a respite worker I have always had a different family each year, and it is always different experience and such a fun time. Some kids want to do all the activities others want to do their own thing. For example, this year the little girl I worked with loved walking around the forest on the paths and just exploring, so that is what we did. It is so amazing when you see the kids, who are not very social, come out of their shell and interact with the other kids or respite workers. It is a place where all the kids, special needs or not, just can feel “normal”.
Working with kids with special needs, and growing up around them has made me very open minded person, and influenced me to become a physical therapist. I am in school currently working on my doctorate in physical therapy. At camp, as a worker you just hang out with the campers all day and do all the activities or what the camper wants to do.
Every time it is a similar schedule. Friday night you meet the family and have dinner. Saturday is when all the arts and crafts, tie dying, field games, nature walks, beach and swimming, and many more activities take place throughout the day. At night, parents get a dinner alone with the other parents, which my parents said was always nice to have and really enjoyed it. Finally, we end the night with a bonfire, music, songs and of course, s’mores. By this time, you have made friends and bonded with almost everyone, new families and old ones. Sunday is more games and crafts and we end with a BBQ lunch and friendship circle. Then comes the hard part of saying good bye to all your new friends, but look forward to seeing them again and maybe hanging out between camps.
I would advise parents to do as many activities as you want with your kids, but to also take time to relax and have some adult time. This is a safe environment where your kids will be watched, have fun and make friends. But also a place for you, as parents, to make friends, talk with other guardians, watch your kid grow and have fun with them. For kids, I would recommend try everything and get to know all the other kids. They are in similar situations as you, and truly understand what you go through even if their sibling has a different special need than yours.
by Peter Staron
Last May, I was a camp counselor at the JCFS Chicago Glick Family Camp. As a counselor, I was able to give parents a break for the weekend. Some of my responsibilities were to lead the kids in camp fire songs, nature walks and organize the talent show.
Family camp is special to me because it was the only vacation that my family took. Having a vacation means a lot, living in the heart of Chicago where the only trees you see is in the park or on the street. It was my first experience with nature. Family Camp is such a blessing in my life because it is the only place where families with children with disabilities can go and be themselves. Nobody has to hide anything and everyone is accepted. I still keep in contact with the friends that I made when I was five years old.
The best part of family camp is singing camp fire songs, eating s’mores and going canoeing on the lake. I encourage everyone attending camp to just be yourself and enjoy every moment of it because the weekend goes by fast!
Pictured (l to r) Chris Mysyk from Reponse, Mimi Goldberg, Peter Staron and Emily Tegenkamp from JCFS