by Rachel Schein, Camp Chazak Staff Member
It is not often that a group of 125 teenagers has the opportunity to spend an extended period of time working closely with and getting to know a group of children with special needs. The relationship between Camp Chazak and NFTY-Northeast is one that has been in development for nearly a year. Over the course of the 2010-2011 academic year, Marissa Frankel, Assistant Director of URJ Eisner Camp, met with the teens of NFTY-NE to discuss the mission of Camp Chazak and propose the idea of hosting Camp and Summer Institute at the same time with the goal of fostering connection and involvement between the participants of both programs. At the final regional board meeting of the year, the participants voted unanimously to work towards developing joint programming for NFTY-NE and Camp Chazak, and today that programming came to life.
As soon as NFTY-Northeast arrived, they were greeted by the energetic smiles of our Camp Chazak campers and embraced the opportunity to interact with them. They began sitting with the Chazak campers at meals and forming relationships that they define as “unlike any we’ve ever had.” The NFTY participants describe our campers as “nice, genuinely sweet, and so happy to be with us.” And the Chazak campers are so thrilled to spend time with the NFTYites. Several of them look for their new friends at meal times and request their presence at activities.
Today, nine members of NFTY-NE joined our campers as they learned about Tzedakah and made their very own tzedakah boxes. Campers and teens were paired up and spent a few minutes getting to know one another before diving in to create their projects. The campers were smiling as they connected with their new friends and created a project that they will carry home with them!
While the art project was occurring in one room, another group of teens were busy planning a campfire service and activities for tonight’s evening program. The evening started with services where the NFTYites and Chazak campers joined together in song and prayer. We then sang a variety of fun songs including “Rise and Shine,” “Old MacDonald,” and “This Little Light of Mine.” One of the most touching moments of the evening was when everyone joined together in the singing of “Shehechyanu,” a blessing which gives thanks for joyous times to celebrate something wonderful happening. Tonight we celebrated the connection of the Camp Chazak and NFTY-Northeast communities. The evening went on with more songs, and reading “The Giving Tree,” by Shel Silversteen. Keeping with camp and NFTY tradition we ended the night by singing the bedtime Shema.
It was absolutely incredible to watch the teens and Camp Chazak campers interact, laugh with, and learn from one another. The teens and campers alike challenged themselves to try new things and form new friendships. As the campers left to go to sleep, the teens took some time to discuss their experience and they shared the following remarks:
“This was such an amazing experience and an awesome learning opportunity.”
“I made a new best friend”
“I would love to continue to build these relationships.”
The teens asked when they could work with the Chazak campers again and wanted to make sure that the relationship between Camp Chazak and NFTY-Northeast would continue for years to come. While at the same time, as the Camp Chazak campers were preparing for bed, they told the staff how much fun they had had and stated “I can’t wait to see NFTY at breakfast tomorrow.”
The theme of NFTY-Northeast’s Summer Institute is dreams – and today, NFTY-Northeast had the opportunity to make dreams come true for the Camp Chazak campers – truly forming a sacred community – filled with strength, compassion, and friendship.