by Christine Wedner, Senior Assistant Director
Two months ago, on June 5, 2020, the first grandchild, the first boy, our first baby graduated High School. Our son’s story has its own unique twist because at the age of 3, he was diagnosed with Autism. We were told that he might not ever really speak to us or if he would be able to fully function in the real world. Then came years of every therapy you could imagine – even to this day – behavioral, physical, speech, occupational, the list goes on and on.
As our son grew older we saw the benefits of his years of hard work and he was mainstreamed from the start of kindergarten. Although academically he was either on par or above his peers – his inability to create social connections was the biggest hurdle for him. His classmates during his elementary school years were always patient and accepting of him. They were constantly trying to engage him in any activities, sometimes they were successful while other times they were not. As our son grew older the disparity between him and his peers grew more obvious and the outreach from former classmates to participate in activities both academic and social started to diminish.
Then, Camp Newman came along. At first, our son resisted going. The idea of being away from the comforts of home and in a situation that you didn’t have control over, added a copious amount of anxiety. Add having additional challenges and it could be a recipe for disaster.
The first summer was a tough one and the longest 2 weeks of his life.
The second summer, even though he resisted he knew he didn’t have a choice and that Camp Newman was now a part of his summers.
The third summer, less resistance but still not thrilled.
During these summers, Camp Newman was diligent in checking in with us and assuring that even though he wrote home it was miserable, that he was participating and was, indeed, smiling on occasion every day.
Why did we make him keep going you ask? We knew our son needed to be challenged. We knew that it was important for him to understand life outside of his bubble, learn to interact with peers and experience things he never could do in the school year, as well, make a connection to who he is as a young Jewish boy.
Each year, Camp Newman staff met Sacha with the same warmth, love, enthusiasm and patience helping him to be comfortable with who he is and that the community surrounding him wanted him to be the best version of himself. By year four, something changed, he became involved, he was coming out of his shell. I would watch him walk the grounds of Porter Creek smiling and laughing with peers. He danced during Shabbat. He sang during services and even did the schtick to camp songs.
His year to be a part of Avodah was upon us and I wasn’t sure what he would do that summer since he didn’t really express any desire to go back to camp. Then out of the blue he said, “I really want to be a part of Avodah. I have friends from my Hevrah year that are going and I want to be with them.” My jaw dropped. “I have friends”. A sentence that I never thought I would hear. He made friends! I was overjoyed, to say the least.
He went on to be a part of the 2019 CIT class. He became involved with NFTY post Avodah summer and even began actively participating in school. Camp Newman provided him with a circle of people who embraced him exactly for who he is. Camp Newman provided a place of comfort and security. He was no longer an outsider. He found a place that fostered his confidence, helped him use his voice, and helped him feel good about being himself.
So, I guess this summer – even with all the craziness going on in the world – has still been a big time of celebration for our family. It’s a celebration of Camp Newman and it’s extraordinary magic that it brings to all who are a part of it. Thank you, Camp Newman! You have my never-ending gratitude.