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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sharing Simcha -- Part III

Long before the first rays of summer warm the earth, before the countdown to vacation begins, before camp applications have even been mailed out... before school starts, a group of dedicated individuals are already planning the next summer in Camp Simcha.

It's no small feat. Anyone who's worked in camp administration, any camp, knows how much planning, creativity, and coordination goes into the summer program. Multiply that by the amount of medical concerns in Camp Simcha and you've got a task that can only be tackled by the greatest giants and the G-d they hang on to so tightly. Divide it by the budget and it might just border on impossible.

With the economy on a downslide, charitable organizations are some of the first to feel the burn. I sure don't envy the job of those who need to decide which sick child's dream to cut back on. But that was the very task the abovementioned individuals faced last winter as they pondered what made the biggest impact on the campers' Simcha experience.

The result they came up with after hours of discussions with the various people involved was somewhat surprising, if not entirely original: It's the little things that count. In fact, it turns out that one of the most memorable things about camp is the soda.

Throughout the beautiful Jack and Moishe Horn Campus, you will find about seven (IIRC) drink-vending machines. The price displayed on the LCD reads $0.00. Sure enough, one need only push a button to receive the desired beverage. Apparently, this phenomenon is way cooler than adults realize, because it's one of the first things that kids rave about when they come home. Thus it was decided that the soda would stay in the budget and some other, more glamorous activity would be cut.

Why am I telling you this now? Simply to help you understand that every little touch makes a difference. A soda can, at wholesale, costs about 70 cents. Each thrill that a kid gets from hearing one clunk out of a machine, ice cold on a sweltering summer day, costs 70 cents. For less than a buck, you can help a sick kid's dream come true. But why stop there? Why not make a hundred dreams come true? You don't need to wait to win the lottery and sponsor a building fund. Rest assured that whatever you can give will be stretched to the max, with teams of devoted people working to ensure that it is allocated in ways that will benefit the campers the most.

Please support Camp Simcha and Simcha Special by sponsoring me in the Team Lifeline marathon.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sharing Simcha -- Part II

When Sharon first came to Camp Simcha, she was a shy, frightened child. Little did the novice staff members realize what a sparkling personality she'd been just a few months earlier. Cancer had mercilessly stolen her confidence, self-esteem, energy... and her hair. She felt almost guilty for feeling this way, but at eleven years old, that mattered almost as much as the threat to her very life.

As one fabulous, fun-filled day followed another, Sharon slowly came out of her shell. She began to make friends with her bunkmates and allowed herself to let go and enjoy a variety of engaging activities. In Camp Simcha, it's normal to cover your head or have less hair, so Sharon felt a bit less self-conscious ... but still, while many campers began to hold their heads up proudly, Sharon's remained hidden beneath her bandanas. Even in the bunkhouse at night, where girls begin to feel comfortable and trust the privacy, Sharon would get under her blanket before slipping off her bandana, and sleep covered all night.

However, as strong as the effects of chemo and isolation, the Simcha Magic proved stronger. On the last day of camp, Sharon came by my office to display the headband she'd created in one of the crafts workshops ... on her own fuzzy head. Rumor had it she'd been walking around that way all day, garnering compliments on her new 'do.

Postscript: The next summer, Sharon returned to camp, golden locks framing her gaunt face. This time, she already knew to expect an atmosphere of love and acceptance, and did not have to warm up at all before diving headfirst into the camp experience ... and thus, not a moment of her last summer was wasted on lonely feelings of insecurity. The Simcha Magic carried her high until the very end.

Please support Camp Simcha and Simcha Special by sponsoring me in the Team Lifeline marathon!
Thanks ProfK, HalfShared, David Linn, and Juggling Frogs for your generous donations!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sharing Simcha -- See it. Hear it.

Here are two great, very real videos that were shown at previous Chai Lifeline dinners.

Another video (embedding disabled, sorry)

Support Chai Lifeline by sponsoring me in the Team Lifeline marathon!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Just wondering...

...why professors perpetuate the textbook conspiracy. What's in it for them?

Yes, it's that time of year again and I'm trying to sell my books. Only... I've just realized that for some it pays to just toss them in the recycling bin. After shipping and ebay commission, I'd be lucky to make a dime off of them.

OK, I can understand why the companies put out new books every year. They have to make a living somehow. But I am really annoyed at the professors who insist on assigning the newest versions. Rarely is there a significant difference between editions, and some things can't possibly have changed (medieval history? math?!) Why force your struggling students to buy spanking new books at $60 - $120 apiece when they'll be lucky to sell it for ten bucks next semester? Plus, they only devalue so quickly because the next semester, they're assigning a still newer edition.

It's highway robbery. Is there any way to stop it?

... just wondering.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Sharing Simcha -- Part I

My mind was a fuzzy blank as I headed towards my first learning group in Simcha Special. It had seemed so simple when the smiling shiur head recruited me last night... but then I saw the topic and materials: Today's shiur was all about being happy with what you have.

I, a fortunate, healthy JAP, had always looked towards people like my new charges to remind myself that things could always be worse. How would I now address twenty adolescents, most of whom could not walk, eat, or even breathe without technological assistance, and make them feel lucky? I wanted to crawl into a hole and cry for all the pain contained within that one small room.
Feelings aside, it was time for shiur. I introduced myself and opened the discussion with a question: What makes you happy?

As the first few hands began to wave in the air, I nervously wondered what the replies might be. So many of the things a typical adolescent might answer were completely out of reach to these kids: funky shoes, pizza, and even, for some, friends.

My predictions turned out to be completely off-base as one girl after another offered:
"Coming to Camp Simcha Special makes me happy."
"I feel happy when my counselor calls me."
"Looking at my pictures from camp."
"Getting together with my bunkmates during the year."
"The pool!" (a place usually off-limits, as I may or may not explain in the future)
Others continued in this vein, with just a few deviations.

Never has it been clearer to me how Camp Simcha Special is truly a ray of sunshine when life seems so bleak. If this is one of the only things that makes these suffering kids happy, it is vital that we do everything in our power to help make it possible.

Support Camp Simcha and Camp Simcha Special by sponsoring me in the ING Miami Marathon.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Sharing Simcha -- Intro

As you may know, I spent several summers volunteering at Camp Simcha and Simcha Special, the one-of-a-kind retreats for seriously ill Jewish children. The kids and staff are so amazing that every year I am inspired to go further in my efforts to join them in putting smiles back where they belong.

In fact, this year I've committed to go quite a few miles further than before -- I'll be joining Team Lifeline in the ING Miami half-marathon this January, iy"H. This way, not only do I go the distance for our kids, but I'm giving you all the opportunity to participate. I'll do the sweating, but please help out by sponsoring! To donate, follow the TeamLifeline link at the end of this post.
To help you understand what's so special about this cause, and in appreciation of your generosity, I am beginning a series of posts to give you an inside peek at the Camp Simcha experience. Every account is true in that it really happened, though I have altered identifying details and sometimes changed the point of view (i.e. don't assume that "I" is me)

One more note about identities... My TeamLifeline site is, of course, under my real name. Linking you to it was a difficult decision that I made only in the hope that it would enable many people to participate in this mitzvah. At this point, I'm OK with bloggers knowing who I am... sort-of... but I still don't want certain people to know that I blog. So please do not use my real name online or in conversations about blogging. I will be deleting the link after the marathon and resume trying to be an anonoblogger.

**Edit: Having reached my fundraising goal, with a lot of help from fellow bloggers and other friends, I am replacing my Team Lifeline link with a link to the regular Camp Simcha website. Please continue to help out; in trying times, organizations dependent on donations are hit hard!
You can enter a donation here.
Thanks in advance both for your generosity and for respecting my privacy.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Borrowed Post

Not that I have nothing of my own to say, but some things just beg to be shared.