Friendship Quest Completed at Allie’s Camp

One could understand if 9-year-old Jasper didn’t have any time to talk on Tuesday. After all, there was plenty to see and do during the third day of Allie’s Summer Camp.

“I saw the kangaroo, the bison,” Jasper said, rattling some of the animals he’d already seen at Turtle Back Zoo, before turning to his teen friends for the day and saying, “Come on, guys! Let’s go!”

Everywhere one looked, youngsters in neon green T-shirts accompanied by teen volunteers navigated around the West Orange zoo. More than 120 people—kids, volunteers, adult supervisors—are a part of this year’s week-long Allie’s Summer Camp program, which includes trips to Bowcraft Amusement Park, Diamond Gymnastics and more.

Harry, 7, said he was having a “great” time at the zoo. “We’re on a quest,” he explained, along with his teen volunteer buddy, Matthew. The duo had already written off two of their missions: get to the zoo and say hello to Harry’s twin sister, Lucy, who was off on her own zoo adventure and having fun on the train ride. They were working on quest No. 3, to see a peacock, when they stopped for a quick moment to admire the animals that were being fed.

“I think this is great,” Matthew said of the morning trip. “I feel like I’ve learned a lot being with Harry.”

The goal of the Friendship Circle summer camp program is to give children and teens with special needs a fun, summer experience and allow them to make friends, according to FC Program Director Chavi Rosenblum. It also gives the parents some must-needed respite time for themselves.

But as much as Allie’s Summer Camp is for youngsters with special needs and their siblings, says Rosenblum, the volunteers are apt to get plenty out of the unique camp experience as well.

“It’s amazing,” she said, “these teens are going back to school in two weeks, yet here they are for a whole week. They see the impact they are having on their special friend and they get so much out of it.”

Teen volunteer Eliana, 15, explains that her buddy, Lilah, 6, is simply “fun to be with every day. It’s a really good thing to do and it’s fun. You get to go places and do so many activities.”

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