June 23, 2024
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June 23, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

We’re Going to Camp… Finally!

A heartwarming scene as children board buses en route to Camp HASC.

On June 29 in Brooklyn, the buses turn down the narrow 55th Street, their steel frames glistening in the sunlight. At the corner, a man in a short beard, radio clipped to his hip, waves them onward. The time: 9 a.m. The location is an ordinary school parking lot in the heart of Boro Park. But the scene is anything but ordinary as children and adults with special needs head down with their parents’ suitcases and bags in hand. The destination: Camp HASC, for seven weeks of immeasurable care and fun.

On the sidewalk, a mother pushes her son up to the crowded, noisy lot. Plush mini bunny rabbits are clipped cheerfully to the wheelchair frame around him, but his smile, ear to ear, is what captures attention.

The crowd buzzes with energy as small groups of counselors, parents, siblings and campers gather together in excitement. Camp HASC’s long-time director, Reb Shmiel Kahn, circulates, greeting each family and camper personally, with warmth and great kavod. We were honored by the presence of community leaders and dear friends of Camp HASC, including NYS assemblyman Simcha Eichenstien and R’ Yechiel Kalish, CEO of Chevra Hatzalah, who came to send off the campers and counselors.

Indefatigable HASC chairman and noted askan Reb Abe Eisner greeted families, staff and campers, and reflected on the great efforts that have gone into preparing for this moment: “With teamwork and siyata dishmaya, we are ready for our best summer yet.” In passing, one parent commented to Reb Eisner that juggling the needs of a child with disabilities together with the rest of the family can feel like running a never-ending marathon. “Today will be the first day that me and my wife can stop running and take a rest. Without this seven-week recharging period we would fall apart.” Reb Eisner turned to a member of the camp staff and reflected, “…and that is why we do what we do.”

In the corner of the yard, a young girl twirls in place, her mother’s hand gripped in hers. “Shabbos Shabbos!” she sings, blissfully ignorant of the day, Thursday. Her soft blonde curls are pulled back neatly in a bun, a smattering of freckles dance across the bridge of her nose. At her side stand two counselors smiling from ear to ear, shining faces mirroring her open, endless glee. “The counselors are malachim,” says her mother, “This is her fourth year and she looks forward to camp all year. All year she’s singing camp songs.” After the disappointment and struggle of this past COVID year, everyone, it seems, is beyond excited for camp.

“My son has been going to camp for five years now,” commented one mother. “He’s really adorable,” she says as she proudly points him out, a lively boy right in the center of the crowd who commands the warm attention of three counselors around him. “It’s his place. Aside from the break Camp HASC gives to the parents and families—which is so, so important—it’s the happiness, the happiness you can almost touch, that makes Camp HASC such a magical place. Last summer at home was a horror. Nothing for him to do, nowhere to go… so much anxiety and frustration. We have been waiting for this day for almost two years!”

From the corner of my eye I notice a parent giving specific instructions as the counselor jots it down. As I move within earshot I realize that the camper’s father was discussing their family minhag on putting on tefillin. This counselor, who will be wrapping tefillin on his camper’s arm all summer, was writing down clear notes to ensure that not a day goes by where he doesn’t help his camper wrap his tefillin the right way.

And what do the incredible counselors have to say? “This is my second year. I was at camp last summer for the day program during COVID—which was intense—but I’ve heard that compared to what is in store this year it can’t compare,” one counselor admits with a small smile. “But there’s no time to be nervous; you’re so busy doing the whole time. It’s intense, but it’s just so…. amazing. There’s no other way to describe it!”

“It’s four counselors for every three campers,” the counselor next to her explains, her hand gripping a young boy’s. “This way there’s always one counselor per camper if one of us needs a break. We sleep in bunk beds: counselor on top, camper on the bottom.”

Beside her, her friend holds the camper’s backpack. It’s her first year as a counselor at Camp HASC. Is she nervous? She shrugs off the question with “We had orientation and a lot of training this past week leading up to camp, so though I’m nervous, I also feel very excited. They explained that there’s always someone around if you need extra help. And I’m just really looking forward.”

A coach bus pulls up and crouches down with a hiss. As one, an orderly pocket of parents, counselors and campers head toward it.

To the side of the door, a young boy with autism sways, his small, pudgy hands firmly gripping the handle of his roll-on luggage. Beside him, his counselor stands patiently. Gently, he murmurs that the suitcase goes in the pile…the suitcase will be there when he arrives. Over and over he repeats himself as the child stares bravely forward, locked in his own world. Each and every morning since Chanukah this boy has been insisting that his mother pack his suitcase for Camp HASC.

Now the day is finally here! At last, his suitcase is on its way—with him in tow—to Camp HASC, the happiest place in the mountains.

Camp HASC is a summer program for children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities. Camp HASC is unique in its ability to meet the complex personal, social, therapeutic and medical needs of individuals with specialized needs, who enjoy a seven-week sleep-away camp experience. To learn more please visit camphasc.org.

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