My husband, Dan and I both spent our summers going to sleep away camp. Some of our best childhood memories were being outside, swimming in the lake, making new friends and being away from home. We knew that when we had kids we would want them to experience the joy of sleep away camp just as we did.
When our oldest daughter, Sasha, was born with Down syndrome we knew that some of the things we imagined for our children would be very different for her. Going away to sleep away camp was one of those things. There are not many sleep away camps for special needs campers and most of those camps are not in an inclusion setting. So, we assumed she wouldn’t have an opportunity to go until we found Ramah Darom.
Sasha went to Camp Ramah Darom for the first time 4 years ago.
I have to admit, I was terrified to send her. Would she make friends? Would the staff be able to support her needs? Would they even understand what her needs were? Would she like it? Would I be called to pick her up early because “it just wasn’t working”? When I dropped her off, I had tears in my eyes. After all, I was leaving my baby with a camp full of strangers and basically hoping for her to have an amazing Camp experience.
Sasha came home that first summer with lots of new things she tried and “almost” tried. She had some challenges over the summer. She did things “her way”. But, she also had a backpack full of notes from friends and counselors she met telling her how much they loved being with her this summer. Her cell phone started ringing with face time calls from Ramah Darom friends who wanted to keep in touch with her. We were hearing stories about all the wonderful experiences she had. Things we could only hope for.
She had different needs than other campers and the Tikvah Support staff worked it out and found solutions that worked for Sasha.
Last summer Sasha finished her 4th summer at Camp Ramah Darom. When I dropped her off at Camp I had tears in my eyes because Sasha was greeted with such love and acceptance. She was getting hugs from friends and staff that had truly missed her over the school year and the Tikvah Support staff had a list of new activities she got to try including working at Café Darom.
Camp Ramah Darom has a fully supported program in place so Sasha can continue to learn and grow and be the best she can be. This Camp has become her summer home and these people are her community.
I am so thankful for Camp Ramah Darom, Audra Kaplan and the Tikvah Support staff. They have created an amazing place where our special needs daughter is loved, supported and given the sleep away camp experience, that we know has become some of HER favorite childhood memories.
This summer Sasha will be returning to work at Ramah Darom through the Tikvah Vocational Program.