Everybody in the Pool! Summer Camp 2023!
This summer, with a brand new zero entry pool at LifeTown, children had a chance to play, make new friends and cool off with water play. For four weeks, 90 campers and 150 teen and adult counselors had time to explore activities from arts and crafts to cooking, from science workshops and gym to an outdoor foam bubble machine and special events including animal petting zoos.
While some jumped for the playground, others couldn’t wait to get in the pool.
Abigail Ben Nun, 6, thrived at camp despite many obstacles. Her family moved to Livingston from Kfar Saba, Israel, in June and there were plenty of adjustments for her: new home, new country, new language.
They moved in part for LifeTown and other support services and education in the area. Still, her parents set their expectations low for camp, coming so soon after the move. They are incredulous at how successful camp was for their daughter. “We did not expect her to thrive as she did,” said her father, Eli Ben Nun. He credits plenty of planning, effort, and expertise on the part of the staff. “It’s not enough that the place is great or the volunteers are great. The odds were stacked against it. It had to be perfect, really excellent, for it to have been this good an experience,” said Ben Nun.
Eli and his wife, Sapir, knew it was a go almost immediately. Prepared to take Abigail home after a few hours or even stay the whole first day with her, neither was necessary. “After five minutes she said, ‘Go. This is a good place for me!’ It was amazing,” said Ben Nun.
Abigail had such a good time that she wanted to go to camp even when it was closed on weekends, he said. “I’m really impressed. It’s a really warm environment for children with special needs. They run a very tight ship!”
Brothers Ezzy, 4, and Moshe Eli Shakhnovich, 7, of Hillside also had an exceptional summer, but that was no surprise to their mother Adira, since both had attended the camp before. “It’s wonderful to feel they have so many fun things to do during the day. I feel calm bringing them to LifeTown, knowing they will be safe and supported.” She doesn’t always feel that way. Even at school, sometimes in the middle of the day, she wonders how her children are doing.
At LifeTown, she never worries. “The kids get so much attention and customization – if they don’t like an activity, they are not forced to do it, though they are encouraged to try new things. That sense of security makes it easier for them to progress,” she said. She would know. She tried other camps for her children, and they didn’t work out. The leaders just did not know what to do with her children, she said, and she felt they weren’t safe or engaged.
This summer, both boys enjoyed the brand-new pool opened just before camp began. Moshe Eli, who loves water, took full advantage and even exulted in testing the deep end where he couldn’t touch the bottom.
Ezzy has always had sensory issues with water, even crying at bath time. So not surprisingly, although he was excited about camp, Ezzy felt nervous about the pool. But little by little, he progressed. Each day he spent more time in the pool. At the beginning, some days he had to be held the whole time. Sometimes he cried. By the middle of the second week, Adira noted a tremendous change. “He came home saying he loved the pool, and that it was his favorite time of day!” she said. On the last day of camp, his group had the option of staying in the pool for two periods back-to-back. “He was in the pool the whole time!” said Adira.
“Ezzy feels so supported at LifeTown. He is not pushed too hard but he is encouraged. Because he feels so safe and happy, he has been able to overcome the biggest obstacle. It’s a huge deal.” The family went to Sesame Place, and for the first time, Ezzy did not stay in the stroller. He ran right into the sprinkler. “He has gotten over so much fear!” said his mother.
“Every time a child makes progress at LifeTown, we all share in their success,” said Rabbi Zalman Grossbaum, CEO. “Ensuring each child has a chance to feel amazing–that is the soul of what we do here every single day.”
While summer camp has come to an end and cooler days lie ahead, there’s plenty more fun to be had at LifeTown, and the pool will remain open for swimming, whatever the season!