A Very Special Gesher

Dan & Claude Winn2.20.20
Our family at Camp Yofi

Our family has been going to Ramah Darom since 2005, when we were part of the first Camp Yofi with our daughter Maya. At the time we were a struggling New Jersey family with a struggling child with autism. On a whim, we signed up for something that had never been attempted (a family camp for families with children with autism spectrum disorder!), at a camp we had never heard of (Ramah Darom), in a part of the country we had never been to (North Georgia). It turned out to have been one of the great blessings of our lives.

Maya in 2011

Camp Yofi transformed how we view Judaism, community, camp, autism and vacations! We were inspired by an incredible group of Jewish leaders and we were impressed by the young staff: the best of our future Jewish leaders, committed and caring, smart and thoughtful and incredibly spiritual. After Maya was diagnosed with autism, there were many years where we felt like we were wandering in the desert. Camp Yofi helped make our family whole again.

Maya has truly grown up at Ramah Darom. The staff who know her can attest to the incredible developmental and educational breakthroughs she has had because of Ramah Darom. We spent 10 summers together at Camp Yofi as a family. Years and years of hard work led to Maya becoming a Camp Ramah Darom camper in 2016! We never could have imagined it, but thanks to the Tikvah Support Program the impossible became possible for her.

Maya and her friend Sydney, both Gesher ’19, with one of the incredible Tikvah Support Staff 
Maya as a Gesher CIT working in the Cafe’ Darom

This past summer was Maya’s Gesher yearher last summer as a camper. It was so special and something she had been looking forward to for many years. The Tikvah Support staff did a fantastic job of facilitating her involvement. We had the opportunity to observe the new pre-vocational training and the vocational work of other former Tikvah supported campers during intersession, which was thrilling. By involving every member of the community in appropriate and useful roles, Ramah Darom has set a powerful example. The campers are seeing a vision of work, life and Jewish spirituality that includes everyone. I can’t think of a better example to set. These young people will take that lesson with them into communities across the world and make a big impact.

With today’s youth suffering from anxiety and other modern emotional illnesses, it is ever more important to give young people a deep sense of purpose. The Tikvah Support Program is a build-in purposefulness program for everyone at Camp! It changes lives for everyone involved and it is to the benefit of everyone.

Maya and her friend Carly, Gesher ’18

Now that Camp is over, Maya looks forward to the regular video chats with her Tikvah supported cohort. She loves getting messages throughout the year from Camp friends, and she is lucky enough to spend time with former staff residing nearby in New York City. A few weeks after Camp last summer, we surprisingly bumped into a Ramah Darom family dropping-off their son for college in Princeton. They broke down with tears of joy upon seeing Maya. There is a community far and wide that knows and loves Maya and who are a very important part of her life, and for that, we are incredibly grateful to the leadership and Board of Ramah Darom.

Maya’s #64, on the left

We see the impact Camp has had on Maya’s life every day. She is now able to navigate and enjoy the world thanks to her experiences at Ramah Darom. She dances in local dance groups where we live, she’s on the high school cheerleading team and she takes Zumba classes everywhere she goes (rikkud). She sings in her school choir (shira) and she meets new friends along the way (kehillah).

When we first arrived at Camp Yofi in 2005, such things were unimaginable. We did not think it possible for Maya to ever go to summer camp let alone have any appreciation for her Jewish religion and culture, which she now celebrates deeply.

Maya and Susan Tecktiel, Camp Yofi Director and a Yoetzet at Camp Ramah Darom

Maya turns 20 in a few months. As you can imagine we have a lot of concerns about the future. There are many unknowns (and so little opportunity) for someone like Maya and we are counting on the Ramah Darom family now more than ever. We need the brilliance of the Ramah Darom leadership to come up with new ways to bring Maya and her Tikvah supported cohort up to the highest standards of what’s possible for them as adults who contribute to their community.

In another decade no one knows what kind of vital programs Ramah Darom will be doing to impact the world and the next generation of children, but we do know that Ramah Darom is Maya’s happy place and a place where unimaginable visions become reality!

Maya’s first summer at Camp Yofi, 2005

We are forever grateful for the work of the Ramah Darom leadership and the commitment of the entire Ramah Darom community.

Please help Ramah Darom continue the story of inclusion, innovative programming and transformation with your donation to the Ramah Darom Annual Fund.

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Click to learn more about the Tikvah Support Program at Ramah Darom and Camp Yofi.