Our 11-year old son Josh has fairly significant learning and emotional disabilities. He loves all sports -- both playing and watching --but because of his coordination difficulties, medications and other physical challenges, his sports skills are weak.
This summer Josh wanted to go to sleep away camp. We found a wonderful organization called Yachad, National Jewish Council for Disabilities, based in New York, which runs programs for special needs kids fully integrated into Jewish camps. Camp Nesher, in Lake Cuomo, PA, is a popular camp that many kids in our community attend. I had no idea until this year that Camp Nesher has one bunk of boys and one of girls with special needs. Josh's bunk has eight campers and eight counselors. The special needs kids are fully integrated into all camp activities but simply have the extra support of the Yachad counselors -- carefully chosen and trained teenagers with experience with special needs kids.
Josh had only slept away from us one or two nights in all his eleven years and we feared that with all his troubles, he would not be able to make it there. We were thrilled to learn after week one that he was doing well and having a blast.
Yesterday the head of the Yachad program called me -- of course I held my breath as I answered the phone fearing there was a problem and my husband and I would need to drive to Pennsylvania to pick up Josh. She told me everything was fine but that Josh had run out of hearing aid batteries and I needed to send up more. I exhaled with relief that all was well and took the opportunity to ask how everything was going since we last spoke. She told me the following: Josh is now playing baseball. He hit the ball and the kids in the field purposefully threw the ball too far for others to catch it so Josh could score a home run. She said they cheered "go Josh go" as Josh ran around the bases. She said that Josh was ecstatic as he slid into home plate. Tears welled up in my eyes as I pictured Josh reveling in that moment -- his first home run. I could not believe how kind those other campers were to forgo getting the opponent out to instead make Josh's day. Rarely do you see young kids displaying such sensitivity and kindness. The Yachad leader told me that in soccer the boys purposefully kick the ball to Josh so he gets a chance to kick it as well.
All I can say is, Camp Nesher, "whatever you are doing, whatever values you are stressing, it is a beautiful thing for all your campers, including your Yachad campers." I am truly thankful to those boys in the field that day for enabling my son, who knows all too well the pain of failure, to feel the thrill of success. Camp Nesher and your parents are teaching you well; my husband and I are deeply touched and so happy for our son.
Our daughters have attended sleep away camp for years. We never dreamed our son could do so as well. Thank you Yachad, Camp Nesher; and a special thank you to the campers and counselors at Camp Nesher.
~Nancy Rubin, an attorney in the District, lives in Potomac with her husband and four children.