This summer, children across the island will head to summer camp and spend their days making friends and having fun in the sun. The Joan & Alan Bernikow JCC of Staten Island is committed to the idea that all children—regardless of ability—should have the same opportunity to have an unforgettable summer camp experience. That’s why the JCC is planning another amazing summer for campers in Marvin’s Camp for Children with Special Needs.
Marvin’s Camp, located at the Henry Kaufmann Campgrounds, provides an educational, creative, social, and safe environment for kids and teens with developmental disabilities. Led by highly experienced staff with degrees in special education, social work, and school psychology, Marvin’s campers participate in a wide array of fun and enriching activities. Campers enjoy swimming, boating, and playing sports, along with hands-on activities like crafts and woodworking. Low staff-to-camper ratios ensure that each child receives excellent care and attention.
Last summer, Marvin’s Camp opened several weeks after the JCC’s traditional camp due to a decision by the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), the state regulatory agency that oversees the program. Recognizing how important Marvin’s Camp is to campers and their families, especially during these challenging times, the JCC fiercely advocated for the OPWDD to amend its decision. When Marvin’s Camp was finally granted permission to open midway through the summer, campers were so excited to return to the campgrounds and the JCC was overjoyed to welcome them back.
This year, the JCC is hopeful that it can give Marvin’s campers the full summer experience they deserve. Bolstered by a proven track record of no positive cases among its staff and 700 campers across summer camp programs at 9 island locations, the JCC continues to advocate on behalf of the special needs population it serves.
Orit Lender, CEO of the JCC, said, “Marvin’s Camp is so special to us and we look forward to it all year, just like our campers do. We know that many of them are feeling isolated and lacking some of their usual respite services, so it’s more important than ever that we’re here to offer them the support they need. We can’t wait to see the smiles on their faces when we welcome them back to camp this year!”
The JCC is currently accepting registrations for Marvin’s Camp for Children with Special Needs. You can learn more about the camp here. To register, contact Laura Irizarry at LIrizarry@sijcc.com. The JCC also offers an inclusion program in its traditional camp for those who would benefit from it. Interview required for inclusion enrollment.
It has been said that a positive attitude is a little thing that can make a big difference in one’s life, one’s relationships and, of course, one’s summer camp experience. The difference between a vibrant, successful summer camp and one that is merely functional is a difference of attitude and enthusiasm.
At our camp, we are guided by an attitude that applauds effort, celebrates accomplishment, and never loses sight of the principle that from a child…everything is beautiful.
When walking through our campgrounds, we see children engaged and enthralled by their counselors’ positive attitude and enthusiasm. On any given day, you can see children prospering in an environment full of sweetness, fun, and joy. Whether they are swimming with friends in the pool, singing songs and dancing at Shabbat, learning about animals and nature in a hands-on manner, dressing up in color for our spirited season-ending Maccabi Games, or performing community service to help others, our children feel a connection to the people and world around them and experience the warmth of a caring community throughout all of their camp experiences.
Positive attitudes, modeled by the love and enthusiasm of our camp staff and fostered in every activity our campers pursue, make our camp the truly special place it is—one that our campers (and our staff!) can’t wait to return to each summer.
Legendary children's TV personality, Fred "Mr." Rogers, once shared with his listeners how his mother helped him deal with frightening situations when he was a child. Rogers said, “When I was a boy, I would see scary things in the news. My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
In the Jewish tradition, we call the impulse to help others gemilut chasadim. Acts of loving kindness and helping others is at the heart of our camp program.
We promote values such as caring for the environment, honoring the elderly, and using kind words through activities, storytelling, and in the ways that we interact with one another at camp. Charitable giving, tzedakah, is encouraged throughout the summer and during special events like the Day of Caring and Sharing, a special day on which our campers help raise money for children with cancer, families in financial need, and others.
Moreover, at our weekly Shabbat celebrations, children are selected by camp staff for being the “Mensch of the Week.” A mensch is a person whose thoughts and actions make our world a better and more compassionate place. In the Jewish tradition, it is the highest compliment one can bestow upon another. Week after week, it is inspiring to witness our campers being honored for doing things, large and small, that make a difference in the lives of others such as welcoming a new camper to their group, being a compassionate listener, and offering words of encouragement to a fellow camper.
Written on the back of the Mensch of the Week shirts that the honorees receive is the phrase, “One Good Deed Leads to Another.” These children—with their kind hearts, contagious smiles, and thoughtful compliments—brighten everyone’s day and inspire all of us to do the same.
Similarly, during this pandemic, many members of our camp families are helping the community in a myriad of ways. Whether they are doctors, nurses, health care workers, first responders, caregivers of the vulnerable or other helpers in the community, we are inspired by their acts of selfless kindness. As Mr. Rogers said, we would be wise to focus on their efforts.
This story, shared with us by Camp Co-Director Stephanie Feldman, has a powerful message that resonates with all of us who know that JCC Day Camp is a very special place.
The story is told of a child who lived in the city near a forest. Almost daily, the young boy ventured off into the woods by himself. His father did not want to interfere with his son’s daily excursions, but he was concerned because he knew that forests could be dangerous.
One day the father pulled his son aside. “I notice that every day you go off into the forest,” he said. “I don’t want to forbid you to go there, but I want you to know I’m concerned about your safety. Why is it that you go there, and what is it that you do?”
“I go into the forest to find G-d,” was the boy’s simple response.
His father was deeply moved. “That’s beautiful,” he said. “And I’m pleased to hear you’re doing that. But don’t you know? G-d is the same everywhere.”
“G-d is,” the boy answered, “but I’m not.”
This story speaks powerfully of the idea that we often need to find a place, situation, or environment for self-transformation to occur within us.
At our summer camp, we strive to create just such an environment. From the moment children arrive at our camp, we want them to feel a sense of warmth and welcome. We seek to foster an environment where children are valued, respected, and included so they feel confident someone will listen. Moreover, we strive to establish and maintain positive interactions between our children and counselors that are characterized by respect, a non-judgmental attitude, and open communication.
Our 100-acre campground nestled in the Greenbelt is also a place where “city” children connect with our natural world. Lush green trees, the presence of animals, hiking trails and ponds are part of our campground’s natural beauty. Additionally, we offer weekly animal appreciation shows from animal lover Brian Wild and ongoing nature activities that connect the children to nature. We know that, especially after these challenging months of staying inside and social distancing, children will be eager to get outside and experience nature with their friends.
In short, like the forest in the story, our camp is a place where we connect with ourselves, one another, and our natural world.
Learning about different cultures helps children grow up to be more understanding adults who are connected to the world and others around them. This is why we incorporate learning about Israeli culture into our camp programming each year.
Our camp staff includes a young Israeli, who teaches our campers about his or her culture in a fun and engaging way. We invite the Israel caravan music and dance troupe to our campground—their energetic, spirited performance is always one of the highlights of the summer!
We also hold Israel Day—one of our campers’ favorite themed days year after year! During Israel Day, campers “travel” to Israel without setting foot in the country. The campground is transformed into a sea of blue and white as campers use their five senses to learn about and celebrate Israel’s history, language, culture, people, and geography. Activities in the past have included touching the stones of the Western Wall in Jerusalem and inserting a prayer in the crevices, making and eating falafel sandwiches, making Hebrew name bracelets, being challenged to an Israeli army-style obstacle course, and playing Geography Twister on a giant map of Israel. Check out some photos from last year's Israel Day below!
Stories are an important part of the human experience. They help us connect with people who are different from us, learn more about ourselves and our place in the world, and unlock our imagination to take us to places we’ve yet to discover! We all love stories and that’s why we’re so excited about this year’s camp theme: The World of Stories.
Each week at camp, we will delve into a different type of story, including folktales, science fiction, fairy tales, mysteries, comics, and fantasy. Because we pride ourselves on helping our campers grow up to be kind, caring adults, we will connect each type of story with values like responsibility, giving, family, and unity. We all know that reading is FUNdamental, and we hope that our study of stories will spark a love for books in all of our campers!
We can’t wait to explore the World of Stories this summer!
Our camp prides itself on not only providing kids with a summer of fun and adventure, but simultaneously preparing them to be compassionate, well-rounded adults. In all that we do, we focus on relationship-building and universal values like respect, perseverance, and kindness. While we strive to live out these values every day at camp, we also have a special day devoted to them— the Day of Caring and Sharing!
On our annual Day of Caring and Sharing, campers are given the opportunity to do something good for those in need. Activities in the past have included holding a carwash and donating the proceeds to charity, visiting nursing home residents, preparing sandwiches and cookies for homeless Staten Islanders, making cards for homebound seniors, collecting pajamas and food for families in need, and holding a walk-a-thon to support Sunrise Day Camp for kids with cancer.
One of the highlights of our summer, the Day of Caring and Sharing reminds our campers that it is better to give than to receive and demonstrates that we can all make a positive impact on the world around us. This year, it’s more important than ever that we celebrate these values as we see the power of lending a helping hand in times of need. We are so proud of our campers for participating in this special day and can’t wait for this year’s Day of Caring and Sharing!
This message was written by Camp Co-Directors Glenn Wechsler and Stephanie Feldman.
Rabbi Milton Steinberg told a story about stepping outside after a long illness that had kept him cooped up in his house. Steinberg said that as he crossed the threshold, sunlight greeted him. The sky overhead was very blue, very clear, and very, very high and everywhere in the great vault between earth and sky the golden glow of sunlight touched him with friendship, warmth and blessing. As he basked in its glory, Steinberg said the words of the prophet Malachi ran through his mind: "The sun shall some day rise with healing on its wings."
We remain hopeful that come June 29, JCC Day Camp will be up and running, providing the children with a safe, healthy environment where they can have the superior camp experience our camp families have come to expect and appreciate.
As we speak, camp directors continue to plan for the summer season. We are hiring and training staff, planning trips, creating programs, and designing schedules. After weeks of being stuck indoors, we know that kids are looking forward to so many camp activities like swimming in the pool, playing baseball, basketball, and soccer, exploring the Animal Kingdom with Brian Wild, competing in the Wild and Wacky Challenge show, and uniting as a camp community for Shabbat and the spirited Maccabi Games. We are especially excited about our 2020 camp theme, The World of Stories, and new offerings, including a Performing Arts Camp, woodworking, and a Teen Travel overnight trip to Virginia.
For nearly 90 years, our JCC has provided thousands of children with the summer camp experience of a lifetime. It’s a second home where the sound of children laughing fills the air and the colorful display of flowers and lush green trees, adventurous hiking trails, peaceful ponds, the soaring of birds, and the smell of freshly cut grass fill our senses. Times are undoubtedly difficult but we remain faithful that better days are ahead. We are certain that the sun will rise again with healing on its wings and thousands of JCC campers will again experience the touch of friendship, warmth and blessing.
Here at the JCC, we believe that everyone should have the opportunity to create great summer camp memories. To us, camp is an essential part of the childhood experience, and one that everyone should feel included in, regardless of ability. Our Marvin’s Camp for Children with Special Needs is committed to providing an educational, creative, social, and safe environment for kids and teens with special needs.
We offer three Marvin’s divisions: Marvin’s Juniors, for kids entering grades K-8, Marvin’s Camp, for grades 9 and up, and Marvin’s On the Road Everyday (M.O.R.E.), for kids ages 15-21. All Marvin’s programs are led by highly experienced staff with degrees in special education, social work, and school psychology. We maintain low staff-to-camper ratios to ensure excellent care and attention for each child.
Children in Marvin’s Juniors and Marvin’s Camp participate in a wide array of fun and enriching activities, including swimming, sports, music, and arts and crafts. They also go on trips, such as going to the movies, bowling, and visiting the zoo!
M.O.R.E Camp provides campers with an opportunity to engage in and explore their community. Each day of camp, they will visit fun destinations like amusement and water parks, sporting events, arcades, and more!
We have so much fun in store for our marvelous Marvin’s campers this summer. Learn more about Marvin’s Camp for Children with Special Needs here.