New Lake Zurich camp offers ‘self-esteem boost’ for kids with social disorders
Camp Fire Fly assistant director Andrew Rosenbloom (left to right), camp director Audra Kaplan, and day camp unit head Julie Feldman are leaders of the new camp offering. | Jerry Daliege~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 21, 2013 2:34PM
Lake Zurich — A winter frost may barely be on the ground but camp organizers and kids are already looking forward to a summer filled of fun.
Registration is now open for Camp Firefly, a joint initiative of Jewish Child & Family Services and JCC Chicago for kids with social anxiety, Asperger’s syndrome, high-functioning autism, and other similar disorders.
In addition to offering an overnight camp for boys and girls ages 9 to 16, Camp Firefly is hosting for the first time a four-week-long day camp for young children diagnosed with social disorders.
Located at the JCC Elaine Frank Apachi Day Camp in Lake Zurich, the newest program is for kids entering 2nd to 5th grade. The session runs June 24 to July 19.
Camp Firefly offers recreational activities similar to those of other summer camps but in smaller group sizes, said camp director Audra Kaplan.
“We really want the kids to have a fun summer — that’s our goal,” she said. “We’re not asking them to do math.”
The staff is comprised of graduate students and professionals who have worked with children of different needs. The ratio of campers to counselors is 3 to 1.
Kaplan expects between 15 and 30 kids in the new program.
Since first-time campers are prone to the same jitters as students on the first day of school, kids are eased into the experience by meeting counselors ahead of time.
Kaplan said Camp Firefly allows kids to practice social skills and do things out of their comfort zone while having a good time. For example, wall climbing.
Children new at the activity are sometimes afraid to go up, Kaplan said. But with their counselors’ coaching and peers cheering them on, they achieve a sense of accomplishment once they reach the top.
“I think camps are a really magical experience for kids,” she said. “They have unique opportunities and experiences to develop friendships.”
Marla Davishoff of Deerfield said she never could have imagined her 13-year-old son, Levi, zip-lining before he attend Camp Firefly for the first time two years ago. Last summer her son, Bennett, 10, joined his big brother for the overnight camp after hearing how much fun it was.
Both boys struggle in big groups and need more accommodation than a standard camp could provide.
“They really liked being able to do what other kids did,” Davishoff said. “They do everything: DJing on radio, horseback riding, zip lining.”
“It’s a huge self-esteem boost.”
She said the camp takes matters of teasing and bullying seriously, and works hard to ensure participants are in the best program for their needs.
“It’s not a camp for kids with behavioral problems who need support for social/emotional learning,” said Davishoff, a clinical social worker.
Rather, it’s a chance for children with some special needs to be a typical kid and “get away from therapy to practice the skills they learn,” she said.
The biggest takeaway, however, are the friendships kids create. Davishoff noticed how the relationships between camp participants grew from one summer to the next.
She said the first year her older son attended camp he received a “bag of compliments” from his peers that include tidbits such as “you made me laugh.” The next year children thanked him for understanding and not judging them.
Because of camp, Levi and Bennett have new friends from all over the Midwest. One fellow camper lives in Florida.
“It gets hard to keep up with the play dates when they live far away,” Davishoff said, laughing.
For more information about Camp Firefly call 855-ASK-JCFS or email ask@JCFS.org.