A day at Special Needs Family Camp

A letter to our Board and to the many supporters who enable our work

 

I spent a few hours this weekend up at our Special Needs Family Camp, as usual, I was blown away.

My wife, Ellen and I attended the talent show Saturday night.  This is an annual highlight when (mostly) the kids perform.  Some parents, some staff but mostly the kids.  And by the kids, I mean those kids who are there because of their special needs and also some of their siblings for whom the opportunity to be the center of attention is itself a rare one.

Kids ages 6 to 24 from the Peninsula to Sacramento, San Francisco to the East Bay took the stage to perform "from each according to their ability."

Performances included singing songs, playing an instrument, doing a dance, or even just blowing one note on a recorder.  The audience – kids, siblings, parents, staff, guests – all took enormous delight with each performance.

After the talent show – there was a pajama party for the kids and a wine reception for the parents.  These are, for the most part, parents who are rarely, if ever, able to hire a baby-sitter;  one of the great benefits of this weekend is our 1:1 staff-camper ratio gives them much needed respite.  As one dad told us:  “I actually took a nap today.  I can’t remember the last time I was able to just take a nap.”

Our staff consists of adults and teens from a variety of backgrounds. Several Jewish LearningWorks staff (present and past) VOLUNTEER and we also rely on Sonoma State students– which means a ton of youthful energy.  We had some teen volunteers and seasoned volunteers as well as some experts brought in to lead workshops for parents (e.g., speech pathology, financial planning, etc).  Rabbi Rick Winer (Fresno) was our designated spiritual leader, along with his wife, educator Rabbi Laura Novak-Winer and their son Max Winer who was our Song leader.  Rabbi Meredith Cahn and Reb Irwin, former Family Camp Spiritual leaders, as well as Dance Specialist Bruce Bierman also joined us. David Neufeld was there, of course; we contract the wonderful Cheryl Cohen, an East Bay educator, to direct the camp.

When I attend INCLUDE events, parents always come up to thank me – which is odd because I have less to do with the camp than any other staffer there.  I try to act humble, but the fact is – they are thanking me as the representative of YOU.   They know  that this project costs money – they are thanking me, they explain, because Jewish LearningWorks continues to make them and their kids a priority.  Because we, by virtue of this camp, continue to remind them that they are part of the Jewish people, and that they and their children are important to us and our community.  This is, unfortunately, not always obvious to them and not always reinforced in their interactions with the Jewish community (this is what we are trying to change, right?). 

Our tag line for “Creating Inclusive Jewish Community” reads – “Creating safe space for all families to feel welcomed and included in Jewish communal experience, regardless of background or ability.

That is exactly what I take away from Special Needs Family Camp each year and that is why we do it.

So, again, on behalf of the parents, I convey their message to you:  Thank you.


David Waksberg, CEO
Jewish LearningWorks