From Baseball to Camp to College: A Lifelong Journey with Keshet

by Abby Zucker

In sixth grade, my search for a bat mitzvah project led me to Keshet. I was looking for a way to tie together my love of sports and Judaism which led me to buddy baseball. A perfect match! I walked up to the field nervously not knowing what to expect. My nerves were instantly washed away when I bumped into a giggling six-year-old with a smile from ear to ear. Little did I know, that smiling six-year-old was Wesley, the best person to come into my life. Wes and I have now had 8 amazing seasons of buddy baseball, 7 incredible years of buddy bowling and other recreation programs, 3 Special Olympics, and are going into our 4th summer together at JCC “Z” Frank Apachi. While I love being part of all of Keshet’s programs, camp in particular has been the most special for me. The skills, friendships and memories are things you can’t get anywhere else and I’m so grateful for the opportunities that camp has given me.

What I thought would be a quick month-long project turned into a lifelong adventure and journey through Keshet. I learned so many incredible lessons and skills at such a young age. As I started working at camp, the power of inclusion really stuck out. Campers with Keshet support are included in a camp group with typically-developing campers their age. While I am assigned to focus on my one camper, we are all one big group and become family. The inclusion feels so natural and is just part of camp. The kids in Wesley’s group were incredible at not only making him feel included but making him feel wanted. Whether it was waiting to start the game until he was ready or making sure he got a seat at their table, the other kids always knew how to be good friends, and this has remained the same each summer. Seeing the way the campers interact and make such incredible friendships is what keeps me going. I feel like I learn and grow just as much if not even more than my campers each summer. 

For me, working at camp is so much more than a summer job. Sometimes you even forget that it is a job! It is a family or close knit community that is always there for each other. The other staff is always there for you and you become super close and develop genuine friendships that keep me coming back each summer. The teamwork with your co-staff in your group are like no other–you work together to make sure the kids are safe, happy, and of course having fun. While doing so, you gain such valuable skills that last a lifetime. There are more obvious skills like patience, leadership, responsibility, but it goes deeper than that. I’ve learned how to be a good friend, true joy in building connections with my campers, and the rewarding feeling of knowing you are making a difference.Keshet in particular has shown me the true friendships that can be made through inclusion, and year after year these bonds only get stronger and stronger. 

Keshet has given me many tools to work with other people with disabilities. The true lessons you learn working face to face with the kids is greater than any textbook could describe. You learn how to read emotions, practice patience and so many creative skills. For me, I feel I have learned many communication skills, especially in working with a kid who was non-verbal for a very long time. I learned things like putting the hands out for choices, how to rephrase questions to a way they can answer, and how to help integrate their communication skills with the other campers. As Wes got older, he became a really strong reader/writer. His friends picked up on this and would sit with Wes and write out words and phrases to just have fun together.

As I started to think about what I wanted to do in life, Keshet made the answer feel obvious. Majoring in Special Ed was a very easy decision for me to make. And as I finish my first year as a special education major at The University of Wisconsin-Madison, my experiences with Keshet have helped me daily.  Even while in college, I still make time for my daily Facetime with Wesley every night. This tradition started during COVID when we couldn’t see each other and has remained so important to me after all these years. As a busy college student, it can be hard to balance all of my activities at school but the five minutes I get to see Wesley make it all worth it.

The power of Keshet’s community is like no other. Keshet brings true joy into the hearts of so many people. Staff, volunteers, and participants alike feel Keshet’s community shine through. I feel this power all throughout my life. Whether I’m working at camp or 100 miles away at school, I feel the love every day. Every night when Wes and I have our “good night FaceTime” it brings me back to that little sixth grader who would have never guessed where Keshet brought her.

If you’re interested in working at camp, learn more and apply here.

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