The following is from the YNN Hudson Valley News Website:
“I remember coming off the bus two weeks ago and I was thinking, this place is so much better than Disney World,” said 18-year-old camper Amalya Zieper.
At Camp Simcha, children with lifelong illnesses ranging from cancer to other genetic diseases have a place of their own.
“We get to forget about our problems. We have no worries. We just get to hang out with friends who are like us,” said Zieper.
In Hebrew, Simcha means happiness. That’s what the Jewish Sullivan County camp aims to provide for almost 500 children every summer. In one two week summer session, there are as many as 120 children with 65 different types of illnesses.
“These children cannot be taken care of in any other camp anywhere in the world. This is a very unique place in that we have infrastructure set up where we take care of all of their medical needs,” said Jay Begun, a pediatrician at the camp.
Rabbi Simcha Scholar says one of the unfortunate implications of illness is isolation. Every camper is made to feel as though they are part of the community.
“These children need a haven. They need a place to grow as children. I think it’s our humanitarian obligation to give them that experience and that ability to say you are a child even though you are ill,” said Scholar, Executive Vice President of Chai Lifeline.
The camp is free of charge including the cost of transportation. Children of Jewish and non-Jewish backgrounds come to Simcha from 60 different locations in the United States and Europe. Counselors say the goal is to make campers feel as though they too can have a regular camp experience.
“It’s amazing to see their positive attitudes and just how they continue even with all of the hardships they go through. It’s just amazing to see the smiles on their faces when they are here, said counselor Aviva Greenberg, back for her fourth summer.
“Last year, I climbed up a ladder and I’ve never done that before,” said Zieper.
Parent organization, Chai Lifeline, works with children and their families year-round, tracking the medical histories of campers so the camp can cater specifically to their special needs.
“It shows me that I can do everything that everyone else can and I’m not different, I’m different in the ways that I’m special,” said camper Dalia Oziel.