Our journey began the summer of 2009 – my best friend invited my daughter, Liza, and I to join her “family” at Camp Wise Family Camp. Liza and I packed and headed to the Home of Happiness for the first time ever. I immediately fell in love. Before arriving, I had no idea what Camp Wise had to offer. Of course, as I fell in love, my questions started flowing. “My child is a picky eater, how will she survive 4 weeks? How is she going to handle the noisy Chadar (dining hall)? Her ears are super sensitive…” And I had many more, but over that weekend, I found how well-trained the staff were to handle all camper needs. I watched my anxious child climb the tree (with staff assistance and support) to the zip line and then, with a priceless look of joy and accomplishment on her face, she soared to the platform. As the weekend ended, I knew that Liza was going to camp next summer! Not so fast…
After starting my journey with Family Camp and then attending the annual get-a-way of Women’s Weekend, my love for Camp Wise grew, and my motherly intuition kept telling me that this was the place for my Liza. But as each fall approached and it was time to sign Liza up for a summer at camp, she refused – she just wasn’t ready to attend camp. I was heart-broken. I thought “omg – she does not want to go; she is going to miss out on the valuable, life-changing experience of Jewish overnight camp”. I had to be ok with it. But, from then on, we, as a family, attended every open house, family fun day, and opportunity to expose our kids to the Home of Happiness.
In 2015, our youngest, Sloane, jumped on the band wagon. We signed her up for camp and all of the goodies started arriving in the mail: the packing list, CD of songs, parent guide. We bought the duffels, organized her clothes and everything else she needed for a session at Wise. Liza came with us to send Sloane off to camp and later that night, Liza asked where the Camp Wise brochure was. She took it into her bedroom, and I swear, she studied that pamphlet. She would pop in my room to ask a question about camp and then disappear. Then ask another question and so on. This process went on for the rest of the evening. By the end of the night, Liza asked one final question…. “Can I go next summer?” My exact words were “Can you go? Really? I have been asking you for the last 7 years if you wanted to go – OF COURSE you can go”!
Sloane came home at the end of the summer, a Camp Wise lifer. And the next year, I prepared to send both my girls to camp. The interesting thing is – Liza wanted to go first session, and of course, Sloane wanted to go second to be with her camp friends. Liza and Sloane are two completely different kids and we not only welcomed our alone-time with each child, but the opportunity for them to grow, learn and experience in their own way, individually.
In the weeks leading up to sending Liza, we attended the parent night at the JCC and the open house at camp. In both cases, the staff were amazing despite Liza’s “teen” attitude and what seemed to be lack of interest. I think inadvertently that behavior pegged Liza as one that made the staff determined to ensure a successful summer for her. I also met with the camp Social Worker to voice my concerns about Liza’s anxiety. After a fantastic meeting, I was assured that there would be options available, if needed, for her to talk with someone.
June 14, 2016 arrived. After eight long years, Liza was headed to the Home of Happiness. I had mixed feelings. My gut told me it was the right decision, but my mind started playing tricks on me. That first day as I waited for cabin photos to post seemed like days. I finally saw Liza with a smile (mind you… Liza does not smile). I was relieved. Then….as I checked the daily photos, I found a pic of Liza and her bunkmates wearing pigtails and a fluffy skirt. I was confused. Mind-boggled. I looked at that picture several times to make sure that was MY daughter. Liza does NOT wear pigtails, or fluffy skirts. Wait – it did not stop there! More and more pictures surfaced of my daughter genuinely smiling, relaxed and HAPPY. I started finally understanding the magic created at the Home of Happiness.
On July 10th, Liza came off of the bus smiling, happy and full of stories to tell. The friendships she made, the bond with N7 and N8, Maccabiah, and the list goes on. She even connected with one of the boys in the village for the first time ever. Their friendship continued beyond camp as he came into town to experience his and her first Homecoming together!
The impact that camp has had on Liza is beyond words. She is trying new things without much fear. Her confidence has grown. My quiet, keep-to-herself, beats-to-her-own-drum daughter is now a JV Basketball cheerleader for her high school. I still do not believe my eyes when I watch her cheer.
I cannot help but thank Camp Wise for the transformation that Liza has made. She is ready for her Solel experience and cannot wait to see what the summer will bring.
Submitted by Allison & Jon Harris, parents of Liza and Sloane