The summer break is a magical world of fascinating experiences for children, who enjoy the long days of vacation and fun, of frolic and adventure. At the same time, it can be quite a headache for parents, who are kept busy figuring out how to keep the children occupied and who will supervise them when the adults go to work and take care of other occupations.
This “headache” is twice as daunting when we are speaking of children with special needs and impairments, who need extra attention and even closer supervision. Their world is cramped into the limited scope of their families and they get lost in the lack of routine, as dependent children who constantly need a loving look, a caress, and help in mobility. Their inability to adapt to to an unstructured day leads to chaos and misery both on the part of other family members and the child himself. The house is continually upside-down. Siblings cannot invite a friend over for a game or even read more than a page of a book without a sudden avalanche of the contents of dresser drawers coming tumbling down on them. The logistics of a simple trip to the local park make it an impossibility for the family to enjoy. Mommy cannot even dream of a more complex trip to the zoo. As frustrated as the family becomes, the frustrations are two-fold for the special child who does not have a clue as to how to productively occupy himself. For special-needs children, the world of experiences is piled with challenges that may seem banal and self-understood. But for these children, one on one guidance is vitally needed for the success of even the simplest activity. An organized professional day camp is not a luxury. It is a necessity.
Anyone who did not see the 130 children who came every day from the entire Southern region (Netivot, Ofakim, Sderot, Beesheva, and all the surrounding towns) to Ezer Mizion’s day camp for special-needs children – never saw what real happiness looks like. The day camp provided concentrated days of happiness and high spirits, fun and adventure for the children, and hours of substantial relief for the parents and siblings. In addition to the mobility accessories, playground equipment, fun workshops, entertainment, arts and crafts, chocolate-making, drumming, baking, musical activities, animal performances, dog training, trips, and attractions, the day camp was unique in the tremendous power of giving demonstrated by its more than 250 volunteers. Each child was assigned a personal volunteer who looked after him and saw to all his personal needs. The day camp had twice as many volunteers as campers, enabling half the volunteers to alternately rest and recharge their batteries, to be ready for the challenge of boundless giving that characterizes the day camp.
“I am very happy and excited,” said one mother whom we met on the site, glowing with pleasure at the sight of her son in his wheelchair, grinning from ear to ear. “But my happiness is tempered by a bit of sadness.” “Why are you sad?” we asked, surprised at the tears that seemed about to burst from her blinking eyes.” “I’m sad because tomorrow, the day camp will be over and my son will be back home, without a framework to keep him busy,” she said, looking longingly in the direction of the chairman of Ezer Mizion’s Netivot branch, Rabbbi Naftali Kuber. Rabbi Kuber is the engine moving the wheels of the day camp. He is in charge of the tremendously complex project of getting the day camp going and running smoothly, among other things – rallying the funds to provide the children with a rich breakfast and a hot, attractive lunch. You couldn’t miss the sense of anguish expressed by the mother. Naftali, who is used to emotional moments such as these, promised that “He who places his trust in Hashem will be surrounded by chessed, loving-kindness.” The father of a boy from Beersheva joins the circle: “There is nothing like this. This is a tremendous chessed enterprise with power that cannot be captured in words. My little boy comes home every day happy and cheerful, alert and full of joie de vivre, a stark contrast to routine days, when he returns exhausted and miserable.”
The day camp took place on the Chemdat Hadarom College campus in the Sedot Negev regional council. A number of entities and companies sponsored the various activities, including: the Netivot Community Center, the Netivot Social Services Department, Sedot Negev Educational department, the various municipalities in the area, Klalit Health Services, which rallied with a warm heart for the cause, and the Dan Badarom bus company, which donated a bus to transport the volunteers every day. Every visitor who stopped into the day camp was struck by the love and special joy that prevailed in the day camp, and by the volunteers who devoted their personal vacation on behalf of the special children.
Rabbi Naftali Kuber, chairman of Ezer Mizion’s Netivot branch, warmly thanked Netivot Maor Yechiel Zohar for his outstanding assistance in organizing the day camp, and Tamir Idan, head of the edot Negev Council, who also rallied on behalf of the children and graciously provided all necessary assistance.
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