Hebrew Academy for Special Children, known simply as HASC, enjoys a 40-year history of nothing short of success. Success for the special needs children and families it serves, and for the thousands of Camp HASC counselors spanning the past four decades, who have been an enormous part of what fuels the HASC engine year after amazing year.
While the focus of HASC is directed towards the campers, The Jewish Link had a chance to spotlight some of this year’s counselors, and learn what it means to them to serve as a counselor at HASC.
What inspired counselors to take on this role? “I always wanted to be a counselor at Camp HASC,” said Aharon Heller. “Growing up, I had a sister with special needs, who unfortunately passed away two years ago. I saw the way she positively affected my family, making us a stronger and more close-knit unit. I believe that Camp HASC is the closest you can get to being parents of these special children. My older brother, Yehuda, worked in Camp HASC for two years. I was drawn in after seeing and hearing about all the amazing people [with whom he] still has a connection after all these years.”
Sharing his perspective, Eli Sklar told The Jewish Link, “This summer I wanted to make an impact and care for others without receiving anything in return. I knew this goal wouldn’t be easy and felt that Camp HASC would be the best place to accomplish it.”
Eli Schiff noted, “I never heard a negative review from the people that had worked there. People had only positive things to say and it sounded like an impossible opportunity to pass up.”
On the topic of life lessons they took away from their experiences, and what was most meaningful to them, the counselors had a great deal to share.
Mia Nissel expressed that, “I don’t feel as though I spent my time doing chesed and hard work, rather that I was privileged to be surrounded by such amazing and holy people all day long. My campers showed me what it is like to truly live for Hashem and always be b’simcha.
Nissel added that while the families of the campers expressed immense gratitude, she felt that she was the one who should be giving thanks. “Spending my summer with their loved ones was an honor, a life-changing experience I will remember forever.”
For counselor Aliza Rothberg, spending seven weeks caring for her campers, lending a hand to those in need, gave her a new perspective on life: “Working in Camp HASC changed me as a person, and taught me that just because someone can’t speak verbally doesn’t mean they can’t express themselves in other ways.” Especially meaningful was connecting and creating bonds with her campers. “I can’t wait to keep in touch with them and have them over at my house.”
Meaningful to Schiff was learning that people are different. Although many people view that as a “bad thing,” he said, it’s actually the opposite. “When we embrace (differences) as opposed to shaming it, we begin to see what every unique person has to offer. It’s like a puzzle… with hundreds, even thousands of different pieces that create a masterpiece. Every person is a puzzle (piece) that fits somewhere. Some may be harder to find a place for, but those are the most exciting to find. Once people see that, we can create amazing atmospheres like Camp HASC, where everyone is (a unique) piece in an enormous and magnificent puzzle.”
Heller added more of what he learned. “At Camp HASC, you’re thrown into a position of responsibility… no one is ever fully prepared to be a surrogate parent to a child they’re unfamiliar with, especially a child with special needs.” Heller explained that counselors and co-counselors are fully responsible for their campers, no cutting corners. Whether it’s waking them up and getting them to their meds… bringing them to therapy and academics, dressing and bathing, and everything in between. Doing this day in and day out for seven weeks changes you as a person, he said. “In Camp HASC, not everything goes the way you expect. In fact, most things won’t. I learned to take a deep breath and laugh instead of getting frustrated, adjust to situations, particularly the unexpected, and make the best of them. These are lessons I’m surely going to use for the rest of my life.” He also cited cooperating to achieve a common goal, often requiring personal sacrifice, like any partnership. “But I never imagined that I would develop such a deep love and personal connection to each one of my campers.”
Summing up, Schiff noted, “HASC is a place where… you’re in an amazing atmosphere of amazing people doing amazing things… to create the magic that happens at HASC.”
The Jewish Link asked the counselors to comment on the influence of HASC on their career choices or perspective on career options. “This summer taught me that throughout life, you encounter situations that are emotionally and physically difficult. No matter how far out of your comfort zone you are,” said Eli Sklar, “if you approach it with a positive attitude you will succeed.”
Asked to comment on the experience of Aliza as a HASC counselor, Eva Rothberg, Aliza’s mother, had this to say: “We love HASC. Four of our kids have been counselors. When the campers come during the year for Shabbos, they truly become part of our extended family. Our children gain much more than they give.”
Alysia Heller, mother of Aharon noted, “Camp HASC is a unique and special world. Our sons grew up with the challenges of a medically fragile, special needs sister, and the heightened responsibilities that come with it.” The family viewed her as a special gift. “In HASC our two boys became primary caretakers, allowing them to appreciate the joy they could bring to their campers while giving much-needed respite to the parents. Our sons are blessed that they had this opportunity and hopefully will maintain a connection to the incredible people of the HASC family.”
By Ellie Wolf