For most children, Camp J means spending time with new and old friends, swimming lessons, morning circle cheers and too many special activities and field trips to list.
But for campers who participate in the Yachad Program for Children with Special Needs, Camp J means even more.
Yachad, which means “together” in Hebrew, provides children with special needs and learning differences a seamless way to integrate into camp and fully enjoy the Camp J experience.
Yachad serves children with a wide variety of issues including ADHD, anxiety, OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), autism, Down Syndrome, Fragile X, sensory processing disorders and cerebral palsy.
Campers are assigned a full-day, one-on-one advocate or utilize an advocate assistant during challenging times or activities. Advocates personalize the camp experience for each child.
For Lacy Ran, parent to Caleb and CJ, the Yachad program is priceless.
CJ was a perfect fit for Yachad, Ran said. The current third grader at Summit Academy struggles with ADHD, anxiety, and oppositional defiance disorder.
“CJ is incredibly smart and creative, but he struggles with managing his emotions and the unknown,” said Ran, who belongs to Temple Shalom. “The JCC staff understands that and knows how to work with him. They created an environment where the unknown is not so scary.”
Last summer, CJ participated in Lego, art and STEM-themed specialty camps and Keff. Yachad advocates checked-in with him and his counselors throughout each day.
“The counselors never judged him,” said Ran. “If he has a rough day he knows he can go back the next day, and no one will treat him differently. For he and I both, that’s so crucial.”
Advocates are equipped to handle each individual camper’s needs. Thomas Wissinger, vice president of programs and operations at The J, said that Yachad advocates either work in special education or are studying special education in college. They also receive special training for camp.
There are no extra fees for Yachad and camp scholarships for the special needs program are available. Last year, Camp J awarded scholarships worth 100 weeks of summer camp. According to Wissinger, they hope to award even more scholarships this summer.
“We take great interest in growing the Yachad program because we see a need in the community,” he said.
“I’m not aware of any full-day summer program that offers a program like Yachad,” added Ran. “Not only do the kids have a great time, but they feel included and loved. I can work and be at peace and not worry about if CJ’s having a good day or a meltdown. I love that as a parent.”
Want to know more?
Camp J registration is currently open. Yachad has limited space; early applications are encouraged. For more information visit jewishlouisville.org/the-j/camp/summer-camp/yachad-program-children-special-needs/.