July 14, 2024
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Kids of Courage: Chesed Is Reciprocal and Disabilities Are Not Limitations

Summer weather, depending on the location, does not always live up to expectations, but one can certainly guarantee heat when going down south. Going on its 11th summer, Kids of Courage (KOC) is traveling to Phoenix, Arizona. Since 2009, KOC has been dedicated to taking people from as young as 5 through adults, who have physical disabilities or chronic illnesses, on vacation. This non-profit organization offers the events free of charge for all participants. The highly trained medical and logistical teams are always fully prepared to ensure the participation of each camper no matter how strenuous the activity.

There are some participants who have been benefiting from KOC since the onset. Camper Ayala Yakobzon, who has been a participant since 2010, shared, “One of the things that I love about KOC is that they enable me to do activities that I’d never have dreamed of being able to do, such as going on an ATV, skiing down a mountain and going on a jet ski. Even though everyone has different conditions, the atmosphere makes us feel as though we are all in this together.”

The goal of KOC is to circumnavigate the logistical obstacles someone may be faced with such as being in a wheelchair, needing an oxygen tank or needing medication. It is remarkable how Kids of Courage operates.

Each camper has their own counselor to ensure that all of their needs are met. When these campers are given the opportunity to engage in the world outside of their circumstances, their lives are forever enriched, as are those of the staff members. Staff are inspired by the campers, and campers are inspired by each other and the can-do atmosphere of the group.

Efrat Kaminetsky, 13 years old, has spina bifida, and was able to join KOC events at the age of 6. In speaking with her about all of the past trips she has been on including San Diego, Orlando, Las Vegas and Dallas, she stated, “Even though Kids of Courage is only a week-long summer program, I always yearn for the trip to be longer. I am excited for Arizona because I can guarantee that wherever we go, it will be fun, because the amazing staff, who are essentially my second family, make me feel as though each destination, each summer, is home.”

Within minutes of mee­ting each other, total strangers who would never have met otherwise become family. What’s unique about Kids of Courage is the endless desire to do as much as possible for every kid. Participants become hopeful and confident in being valued enough to experience adventure and inclusion without hesitation or shame. There have been multiple shidduchim made from people meeting one another as volunteers. It is true that campers are indeed grateful for the chesed that is done entirely for them; however, the beauty of the organization is that the counselors are just as appreciative of having the ability to gain perspective and inspiration from their campers.

Former camper Tzvi Kassover volunteered as a staff member in the summer of 2018. He disclosed, “I was always able to help fellow campers. However, I wanted to do more. I realized that, due to my situation, I can be a helping hand and listening ear to other campers. That I can be a support system to these campers, just as previous volunteers were for me. Giving back has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had.”

Kassover’s insight is recognizing that the importance of giving back has helped shape the person he is today. He has learned to utilize his abilities instead of taking them for granted.

Co-founder Dr. Stuart Ditchek is adamant that the objective of the organization is not to just go away on trips and do fun things. The ultimate goal of Kids of Courage is to build confidence in campers so they can be more independent and can achieve success in difficult circumstances, with the appropriate support system. Kids of Courage also provides a social community that both campers and staff are grateful for. “We believe that we are not only providing the camper with opportunities, but that we are allowing families to have respite from the physical taxes of taking care of their child. We do not pity anyone, for we believe that every camper deserves to overcome any barriers. We encourage our participants to grow from their situations and do not believe in limitations.”

Kids of Courage is dependent on donations to sustain and extend its programming. Winston Churchill depicted the true meaning of a baal chesed (a person of kindness) when he said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” This statement describes Kids of Courage. To donate or volunteer, visit www.kidsoc.org.

By Racheli Herzfeld

Racheli Herzfeld is a graduate from Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School who returned from studying in Midreshet Lindenbaum this past year and is working as a summer intern for The Jewish Link.

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