Originally posted on the URJ Henry S. Jacobs blog.
Camp Dream Street is a week-long residential camp program for children with physical disabilities. The camp is sponsored by the Henry S. Jacobs Camp, and counselors for the camp are drawn from the teen members of NFTY’s Southern Region.
Could I Really Make This Work?
by Barrie Bauman
Barrie grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas. She is an alumnus of URJ Henry S. Jacobs Camp and NFTY Southern. Barrie received her Doctorate in Physical Therapy at Washington University in St. Louis and is a pediatric physical therapist at Saint Louis Children’s Hospital.
I remember reading about my first Dream Street camper. She was 9 years old, used a wheelchair, and her medical diagnosis was cerebral palsy. When I met her she was bright eyed, bubbly, and excited about camp. On the first day, I was helping her change into her swimsuit—being very slow and cautious so as not to hurt her. She finally looked up at me and said “I’m not fabric, you aren’t going to rip me in two!” At that moment I realized that she was nothing more than a kid wanting to have fun at summer camp and make new friends! I, for one, definitely made a new friend that day.
For the next 6 summers, I returned to Camp Dream Street to meet more incredible campers and help the NFTY Southern participants have a life changing experience just like I did. At some point during college it all came together. I loved being Jewish and fulfilling mitzvot, I loved my science classes, I loved working with children, and I loved Camp Dream Street. Could I really make this work? I decided I wanted to be a pediatric physical therapist and work with children with disabilities. I finished college, went to graduate school, participated in numerous internships as well as volunteering with a sports group for children with cerebral palsy. Now, this is my life. I work with an extraordinary group of children who are simply that: children. Dream Street not only changed my life but it shaped my profession and molded my career.
The Camp Dream Street participants and the children I work with today solidify what we are taught in that all people are made b’tzelem elohim—in God’s image. As Jews, we need to make it our priority to accept and assist each and every person in exploring and fulfilling his or her Jewish identity. Awareness, education, advocacy, and exposure are essential for making synagogues, camps, religious schools, and youth groups accessible to and accepting of all people. Any service or activity can be adapted so that all children and adults can participate to the best of their abilities rather than being limited due to disability.
Though each of us finds our Jewish identity differently, the themes of acceptance and accessibility are fundamental ideals of Judaism. We must apply these ideals to allow for all members of the Jewish community, with and without disabilities, to be able to develop, learn, and explore their Jewish identities together.
A Giant Game of Memory Changed My Life
by Ellie Streiffer
Ellie Streiffer lives in New Orleans with her husband, Ben Horwitz, their 6-month old, Ezra, and their dog, Inca Kola. She is in her first year of Occupational Therapy school at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center. Ellie began volunteering at Camp Dream Street as a NFTYite in 2000. She served as Program Director for the 2010 and 2011 summers, and is currently a member of the Board of Advisors.
If you had asked me in 2000, my first year as a volunteer, to describe how my participation in Camp Dream Street might guide my future career path, my response would have been “Huh? I’m just here to have fun and do a mitzvah!” But now, looking back over my 13-year involvement with the program, I am amazed at the impact Dream Street has had on my personal life and my chosen career. The wonderful thing is that I am not an exception. Of course, not all Dream Street volunteers choose a career in which they work with people with disabilities – though many have; NFTY-Southern has produced a fair number of occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech therapists, doctors, nurses, and social workers, who all were guided to their careers by their experiences at camp. But, without exception, Dream Street changes people for the better. It impacts the way we treat people, the way we think about people, the way we see our own strengths and weaknesses, and so much more.
Camp Dream Street led me to a career working with people with disabilities – occupational therapy (OT). In fact, my OT “ah-ha!” moment took place at camp. I was leading an activity in which the campers played a giant Memory game with pieces laid out on the floor. The first group played and had a good time, but many of the campers had to enlist the help of their counselors to bend over and flip the game pieces. It was not until the OTs provided an alternative that I realized the inaccessibility of the game. For the next group, they affixed Velcro to the game pieces and provided a broomstick with Velcro on its end. What a simple yet effective method of providing extra reach for children with limited mobility! No longer did they need to rely on their caretakers; the campers were given the tools to participate independently in the game. In that moment, the kids just thought they were playing a game and having fun.
But what I came to understand was that, by giving them an avenue to participate, they gained a sense of ownership and confidence which will spill over, not only into the other activities throughout the week, but more importantly, into their lives outside the gates of Camp Dream Street. From this enlightening moment, I became interested in occupational therapy’s ability to provide avenues for accessibility and participation in reaching a goal. Setting, working toward, and achieving a goal, even one as seemingly simple as flipping over a Memory piece, has a lasting, significant, and transformative effect on a person’s life, no matter their abilities.