Camp Kulanu Director Jonathan Cooper always wanted a camp that serves all ages and disabilities so the Cedarhurst-based school for special needs children created its first inclusion camp, Camp Discovery, which allows all children to enjoy their summer together.
“Kids with special needs shouldn’t be isolated over the summer,” Cooper said. “Other kids need to get to know them so they don’t feel like strangers in their own community.”
Through activities such as swimming, cooking, kayaking and various field trips, children, ages three to 20, will have experiences like normal kids. “I see camp as a socializing opportunity without the pressures of academics,” Cooper said.
Justin Delarosa, 9, from Freeport enjoys the various activities he’s been participating in during his first summer at Camp Discovery. “We go on field trips and I love playing sports,” he said. “I like it here very much.”
Counselors, counselors-in-training and one-on-one-shadows, who are assigned to an individual camper, accompany campers. Zoe Tanen, a West Hempstead resident and one-on-one shadow, came to Camp Discovery after a friend told her what a great experience she had at Camp Kulanu in past years. “It’s been an amazing summer so far,” she said. “I wanted to try something new and I realized I work well with kids. I’m also thinking about majoring in special education in college so it would look great on my resume.”
Esther Weinstein, the coordinator of vocational education at Kulanu, oversees the internship program for young adults, ages 16 to 22, who learn skills while assisting at camp or at local worksites. The interns work three days a week at 30 various community based employment sites such as Trader Joe’s, Young Israel of Hewlett and CVS pharmacy. “They’re given real work experience with a job coach,” she said. “And they work at the camp as needed. Work experience is very important for them to interact with their peers.”
First-year Camp Discovery camper Emma Mandel, 16, enjoys swimming and trips to Adventureland Amusement Park in Farmingdale. “I like the counselors a lot too and I’ve made friends here,” she said. “I think being at camp will make me happier in school.”
Yaffa Goldsmith, a Cedarhurst resident, said her son, Shimmy, is having a wonderful summer at Camp Discovery. “He is enjoying the entire experience and feels so comfortable and welcomed in the warm professional environment,” she said. “He waits for the van each day and asked for camp on Sundays and the Fourth of July.”
Cooper said he anticipates that campers and staff will not only enjoy their experience at Camp Discovery but also learn lessons that extend past the summer. “I hope campers develop social skills and feel more confident when they go back to school in the fall,” he said. “For staff, working with special needs kids is a great experience and these kids get to feel like typical kids.”
For more information about Camp Discovery, visit www.campdiscoveryli.com or call (516) 569-3083.