December 8, 2023
December 8, 2023

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Cancer Camp Counselors Inspired to Run to Rebuild Bunk Lost to Fire

Miami—Calling themselves “Team Power,” 14 counselors and two children fighting cancer who attended Camp Simcha, the renowned international camp for kids with cancer and other serious illnesses, trained to hit the ground running on February 2. The girls and women joined Team Lifeline, the endurance training program that raises funds for Camp Simcha, and ran in the ING Miami Marathon and Half Marathon in hopes of raising enough money to rebuild a bunk lost to fire last summer. Anny Safier, a camper from Fair Lawn, and Estee Scheinfil from Teaneck participated in the run.

More than 300 novice and veteran runners and walkers completed marathon and half marathon as part of Team Lifeline. The funds they raised support Camp Simcha and Camp Simcha Special, overnight summer camps designed to meet the unique medical and social needs of children and teens with life-threatening or lifelong illnesses. Team Power has asked that their contribution be allocated to the new cabin. The structure, part of Chai Lifeline’s $5 million capital campaign at the camp, is more than a replacement. Designed to meet the medical and social needs of very sick children who require medical equipment like wheelchairs, respirators, and feeding tubes, or privacy for nursing needs, each cabin includes two bunks for six campers and their counselors and a common recreation room for socializing and playing.

Carrying on last summer’s theme, “the power of positivity,” Team Power is passionate, emotional, and deeply committed. “These kids have already endured so much, and the fire really drew our division together,” said Penina Wolff, camp division head. “Our amazing campers coped better than their counselors and they inspired us on this mission; we have high hopes that we can help rebuild what has been lost, and we’re giving it all we have.”

The fire, which began in the early morning hours of an otherwise unremarkable day, reduced the bunk to ashes and cinder in less than an hour. Six children and their counselors lost everything they’d brought to camp, from stuffed animals and blankets that had been their chemotherapy companions to passports, clothing, and books.

“There were amazing moments of compassion among the campers,” remarked Rabbi Simcha Scholar, executive vice president of Chai Lifeline. “The girls lost everything, but they worried about their friends, not themselves. I’m not surprised that their devoted counselors decided to form this team in their honor.”

Penina Wolff said, “These campers are our heroes. Their strength and positive attitude motivates us to do as much as we can.” Penina and her team, which included counselors and two campers, are hoping to raise $360,000, enough to replace the lost bunk with a state-of-the-art double cabin that will house 12 children and their counselors.

Ms. Wolff described the August days after the fire as “three of the worst days, and also three of the best.” The division head was wakened at 4:00 a.m. to the sight of a bunk wall in flames and a fellow counselor running with a wheelchair-bound camper in her arms. Everyone escaped, kids helped by counselors and other staff, but the day really tested the campers’ and counselors’ emotional strength. “It was really traumatic, and everyone in this bunk lost everything. But we could never have anticipated the reaction and behaviors of our campers,” she said.

“Sometimes you forget that these children have gone through horrible things in their battles to get well. They are heroes every moment they stand up and take a step forward. Because they felt they had already lived through cancer, the worst thing they could imagine, they showed us how to be brave and what’s truly important in life. Other campers reached out to them in the most selfless ways, offering to share their bunks, giving them clothing and gifting their own stuffed animals. It was a true reflection of what Chai Lifeline is all about.”

For more information about Team Power and Team Lifeline, contact Melanie Kwestel, director of communication, Chai Lifeline at 212 699-6638 (o), 201 741-7811 (c), or email [email protected].

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