By Yehuda Meir Horowicz
9:00 a.m. June 27, Brooklyn—the buses turn down the narrow 55th Street, their steel frames glistening in the sunlight. At the corner, a man in a short beard, radio clipped to his hip, waves them onward. Children and adults with special needs head down with their parents’ suitcases and bags in hand. The destination: Camp HASC, for seven weeks of immeasurable care and fun.
On the sidewalk, a mother pushes her son up to the crowded, noisy lot. Plush mini bunny rabbits are clipped cheerfully to the wheelchair frame around him, but his smile, ear to ear, is what captures attention.
The crowd buzzes with energy as small groups of counselors, parents, siblings, and campers gather together in excitement. Longtime friends of Camp HASC, State Senator Simcha Felder and NYS Assemblyman Simcha Eisenstein also personally came to say goodbye and send off the campers and counselors as well.
Rav Binyamin Eisenberger, shlita, who has visited Camp HASC for the past few summers to share divrei berachah and chizuk, also arrived and warmly shook campers’ hands, wishing them a wonderful summer. “Just look at the outpour of chesed of these counselors” Rabbi Eisenberg remarks, “no matter how many years I come, I’m always inspired by these angels.”
One parent commented to Rabbi Eisenberg that juggling the needs of a child with disabilities together with the rest of the family can feel like running a never ending marathon. “Today will be the first day that me and my wife can stop running and take a rest. Without this seven week recharging period, we would fall apart.”
In the corner of the yard, a young girl twirls in place, her mother’s hand gripped in hers. “Shabbos Shabbos!” she sings, blissfully ignorant of the day; Thursday. Her soft blond curls are pulled back neatly in a bun, a smattering of freckles dance across the bridge of her nose. At her side stand two counselors in powder blue camp shirts, faces mirroring her open, endless glee. “The counselors are malachim,” says her mother, “This is her third year and she looks forward to camp all year. All year she’s singing camp songs.”
My son has been going to camp for five years now commented one mother. “He’s really adorable—he must be the most photographed child at Camp HASC,” she says as she proudly points him out, a lively boy right in the center of the crowd who commands the warm attention of three counselors around him. “It’s his place. Aside from the break Camp HASC gives to the parents and families—which is so so important—it’s the happiness you can almost touch that makes Camp HASC such a magical place.”
From the corner of my eye I noticed a parent giving specific instructions as the counselor jots it down. As I move within earshot, I realize that the camper’s father was discussing their family minhag on putting on tefillin. This counselor, who will be wrapping tefillin on his camper’s arm all summer, was writing down clear notes, to ensure that not a day goes by where he doesn’t help his camper wrap his tefillin the right way.
And what do the incredible counselors have to say? “This is my second year. My first year, I thought I’d be more nervous,” one counselor admits with a small smile. “But there’s no time to be nervous—you’re so busy doing the whole time. It’s intense, but it’s just so…. amazing. There’s no other way to describe it!”
“It’s four counselors for every three campers,” the counselor next to her explains, her hand gripping a young boy’s. “This way there’s always one counselor per camper if one of us needs a break. We sleep in bunkbeds—counselor on top, camper on the bottom.”
Beside her, her friend holds the camper’s backpack. It’s her first year as a counselor at Camp HASC. Is she nervous? She shrugs off the question with “We had training the week before camp and orientation, so I feel comfortable. They explained that there’s always someone around if you need extra help. And I’m just really excited.”
A coach bus pulls up and crouches down with a hiss. As one, an orderly pocket of parents, counselors, and campers head towards it.
To the side of the door, a young boy with autism sways, his small pudgy hands firmly gripping the handle of his roll on luggage. Beside him, his counselor stands patiently.
Gently he murmurs that the suitcase goes in the pile… the suitcase will be there when he arrives. Over and over he repeats himself as the child stares bravely forward, locked in his own world. Each and every morning since Chanukah, this boy insisted his mother pack his suitcase for Camp HASC.
Now, the day was finally here! At last, his suitcase was on its way—with him in tow—to Camp HASC, the happiest place in the mountains.
Camp HASC is a summer program for children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities. Camp HASC is unique in its ability to meet the complex personal, social, therapeutic, and medical needs its special needs campers, who enjoy a seven-week sleep-away camp experience.