Amidst the social workers, therapists, camp directors and educators who led sessions during our orientation for camp staff, we had one special guest speaker who played an important role of sharing a parent’s perspective on sending a child with disabilities to camp. Amy Cutler, a Keshet parent, pediatric occupational therapist and former Keshet camp staff, inspired our staff with her story. She helped put a face and feelings to everything that we had been reviewing during staff training. We so appreciate Amy’s role in this year staff orientation that we want to share her words with our Keshet community.
The summer after my freshman year of college I took a job as a counselor at Apachi. I hadn’t picked a major, didn’t have any idea of what I wanted to be. Soon after I started I began to notice the Keshet campers. Watching the staff interact with the campers, and, perhaps more importantly, the way in which the campers engaged with them – it was unlike anything I had ever seen. Campers who couldn’t express themselves were suddenly engaging with their peers. Those who couldn’t always control their behavior were participating in activities.
This wasn’t just about going to the swimming pool and snack time. This was a place where children were not just included, but given a chance to flourish. It wasn’t long until I decided to become a Keshet counselor the following two summers and go to graduate school to become a pediatric occupational therapist. I owe my entire career to the impact Keshet had on me.
But I never felt the need for a place like Keshet more than when my daughter Hannah was born. A traumatic birth injury left her with irreversible brain damage. The first year of her life was spent with doctors, nurses, therapists and hospital stays and coming to terms with a life we never expected to have. Once we began to understand that Hannah had some significant developmental challenges, I started looking for ways to make her life fulfilling and meaningful.
In the chaos that was the first year of Hannah’s life, it was always a source of comfort to know a place like Keshet was going to be there for Hannah. To support her. To challenge her. To treat her as an equal to her peers. And to just give her the opportunity for fun along side her typical peers.
It was my experience at Keshet that allowed me, without hesitation, to sign Hannah up for camp immediately upon turning three (after unsuccessfully petitioning Abbie to allow me to send her at just a year old). I’m sure most parents are nervous to send their 3 year-old with a lot of extra needs off by herself at such a young age, but I never felt more confident than when I handed her off that to her counselor that very first day. I knew she was going to be taken care of because I knew she was in great hands.
The work that everyone in this room is doing has immeasurable impact and we are truly grateful for that. Each and every camper has a story that goes beyond just the short time you’ll spend with them this summer. I can say without hesitation that my experience at Keshet has changed my life and my family’s life forever.
I just want everyone to remember when you’re tired and you’re having one of THOSE days, how much we appreciate everything you do. The job you are doing doesn’t only make a difference for the child you are working with, it makes a difference to their whole family, and, maybe even more importantly, the children in their group who get to learn about differences and get to be their friend. My summers, and now Hannah’s, have been the most important moments in my life, and I hope that they are for you too.