The Blessing of Camp

Jacob and Jesse Leshetz came home from camp each day with smiles and laughter and “pure joy” according to their mother, Sharon Leshetz of Netcong. The siblings couldn’t wait to get in the car in the morning to head to camp. As they arrived, Jesse, 3, would speed down the hall like a bullet flying toward the playground and the ball pit. Jacob, 12, looked forward to the baking and the sensory gym. “It was an amazing 3 weeks for both kids because of the love and support they received – and because they were kept busy!”  said Leshetz. “The whole model of teenagers volunteering with kids is beautiful.”

With 75 participants and over 200 teen volunteers in three weeks of summer camp at LifeTown in August, the building buzzed nonstop with activity. There was something for everyone, from STEM workshops and art projects to music and jazzercise.

“Some kids like the playground the best. Others really like the shows in the theater, and others really like the sprinklers,” said Jonah Rieber, 14, of Livingston, who was among the teen volunteers along with his sister, Emma, 17. He has volunteered off and on over the years with his family, but this summer marked his first experience as a full-time counselor. He acknowledged feeling a bit nervous at first but he got the hang of it, and he appreciated the support of the staff.  “It was good to learn to work better with kids, to be responsible for them, and I felt good doing something kind for others,” he said. He also enjoyed meeting other teens. In the end, “I loved it and I’d do it again next year!” he said.

His mother, Sarah Rieber, saw a foundation for giving that the camp offers local teens, and a chance to grow. “It’s a unique opportunity for our kids to see outside themselves at an age when that’s a challenge,” she said. “And he saw that although he felt anxious, he could push through that and feel a sense of achievement. He came out of the summer with a new kind of confidence in himself.”

This year marked the second with multiple weeks of summer camp, adding to the original single week of Allie’s Camp which began years ago. Close to one third of families took advantage of early drop-off and late pickup. And this summer, a greater percentage of participants had more significant challenges than in years past, and there were more families enrolling multiple children, like the Leshetz family. 

“The need is so great for resources like camp,” said Chavi Rosenblum, Friendship Circle program director. “Camp is a very meaningful time for our participants and our volunteers to thrive while they are having fun in this really special environment.”

Summer camp at LifeTown is more than just a respite for parents, or a place where kids can have something meaningful to do. “Camp was a blessing,” said Sharon Leshetz. “You feel like family when you walk in the door.”

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