Dreamstreet- a sleep-away camp for kids with disabilities to just be kids.I struggled to grasp how real this cheesy slogan was, even though I practically grew up helping there, until I got to experience the joy of the campers from a counselor perspective. Summer of 2023 was the first time I actually got to serve as a counselor for the camp, due to covid restrictions the last year, so I was going in pretty blind on what to expect.
Before campers arrived we started with a 2 day orientation process. This consisted of being taught everything from basic procedures to camp songs to medical procedures and helping these kids in the best way. Dreamstreet works to serve kids 8-14 in their regular camper program and high school aged participants in their Great Expectations program. With the wide range of ages came the wide ranges of abilities that these campers could have. While the most commonly accepted campers tended to have Cerebral Palsy and Spina Bifada even these had wide ranges of how much they can affect people. This is why all counselors were instructed on how to do basic wheelchair lifts, diaper changes, and how to help a camper in the pool. More important than these basic procedures, each counselor coupling was presented with a file on their camper on what they would need to help their camper most with.
The night before opening night I think everyone was nervous. Reality hit hard that we were about to be in charge of an actual person for the next five days. After a quick breakfast the next morning, campers started arriving and opening day went awesome. We lined up where cars pulled in and got to cheer each arriving camper while we awaited our own. After about 45 minutes I heard my name being called announcing my camper arrived. My cos and I went over to her car to greet her and her parents and all I could remember feeling was excitement. We traded off asking her parents questions and greeting and playing with her. Now because I don’t want to go day by day with every activity we did, here are the highlights of camp in my opinion…
10. Talent Show
My camper and her friends decided to participate in the talent show by dancing to the song Hakuna Matata. The talent show is one of the biggest parts of camp, so seeing her getting to experience the joy out of it with friends was so fun.
9. Magic Show
We had a magician at camp the first day. He was honestly one of the funniest magicians I’ve ever seen. However, even better than that my camper laughed her head off the whole time and was even invited to participate as an assistant, which truly made her day.
At first, I was really scared about swimming because my camper did not know how to swim, however after begging us relentlessly the first day to swim we were all eager to get in the next day. Seeing her in the pool interacting was one of the calmest I was at camp actually. Even through splash fights, whirlpools, many floaty changes, and sore arms from supporting her all of us were constantly happy in the pool.
7. Dancing Everywhere
It’s safe to say that everyone was tired at camp, with long days and short nights it makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is the joy and energy I found in dancing to every activity with my camper. It was really awesome to just be goofy and silly and make long walks much more bearable and fun with her. Both of us got to truly let go.
6. Free Time At Night
As selfish as it is for me to say this, it’s true. At night me and my friends got to hangout and laugh about all of our funny stories from the day from our campers. It was honestly the energy boost I needed to get through the week.
5. Getting to See My Camper and Pixie Fairy
Each year camp has a theme for evening programs, and this year it was traveling to dreamland. One of the characters we met on the way was Pixie the Fairy. We got to make a wand with her and talk with her. Even though I didn’t love my camper constantly “poofing me”, which consisted of us having to do anything from freezing to falling dramatically on the floor, it was nice to see her interacting with the magic of camp.
4. Meeting New Friends
I got to witness my camper make a best friend with the girl in the cabin next to ours. They were the sweetest I had ever seen and so cute together. We had to drag them away from each other every night and sit at all meals together during the day. It was awesome to see the joy they brought each other.
3. Horseback Riding
Horseback riding was the first time I saw her truly smile. There is something magical about being on a horse and witnessing her excitement made me so happy, even if I had to step in horse poop so she could do it.
2. Watching Her Open Up
The first day she would barely talk to anyone and by the last day she was talking pretty much nonstop. I was so happy we got to create a place for her to open up and where she felt safe expressing herself. She also became more comfortable around me and my cos to the point that she would fall asleep on us.
1. Saying Goodbye
I know how morbid it sounds, trust me I cried so hard on the last day,but it’s true. I got to see and hear stories of all the campers’ parents promising to return next year because they had never seen their child happier. That is what Dreamstreet is about and it truly warmed my heart.
Shira Preis is a BBG who lives in Atlanta, Georgia, and she loves to dance and write in her free time.
All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.
A story about hope and how anything is possible if we believe in ourselves and continue to fight till the end.
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