When one thinks of summer camp, activities like swimming, sports and sing-alongs generally come to mind. While those are all important parts of the camp experience, one group of campers with special needs at YCC summer day camp at the YM-YWHA are adding book publishing to their summer lineup.
Thanks to a partnership with the Jewish Public Library (JPL) and the Kids Write Network – an organization that encourages children to self-express through writing – the campers in the manhigim (leader) group at the day camp are taking part in writing workshops that will culminate in the publication of their own book on their camp experience. The published work will be available on loan at the JPL, and the participants will each receive a copy. There will also be a launch party for the participants to celebrate this enormous accomplishment at the end of the summer.
“The goal is to give [the campers] a voice and to enter their world to better understand what they are going through,” says Helen Georgaklis, founder of the Kids Write Network and leader of the workshops. “We’ll also highlight how they feel about camp and how it benefits them – how they feel safe, happy and secure there. It will bring awareness to the benefits of summer camp for kids with all needs.”
Georgaklis and her team have developed a six-step program to help children through the writing process, and though there may be additional challenges, Georgaklis finds the process very beneficial to children with special needs.
“For a lot of these kids, there are no stories written by kids for kids that they can relate to,” she says. “The books I produce draw out their story. I’m not looking for perfection in the story or illustrations; I’m looking for their voice and their story.”
Maria Ressina, head of library services and outreach at the JPL, says this workshop, which takes place once a week at the JPL and once a week at the YM-YWHA, is a natural fit for the library.
“Our job as a library is to promote self-expression and understanding and to be open to each experience and how people interact with the world,” Ressina says. “This project is an opportunity for the JPL to collaborate with an organization that’s doing great things and to provide a space where they can be comfortable and happy. Being surrounded by books might inspire them, and here at the JPL, they can be loud, they can wander – everyone here is welcome just as they are.”
The book, which will be called Voices of YCC Manhigim, will include each camper’s unique perspective of camp, which will be discussed in the workshops led by Georgaklis. In some cases, where the campers are non-verbal, their stories will be expressed through illustration, or with the help of camp staff.
“Each camper will have their own story – even if only one line or picture – each will have their own tangible story told in print,” says Georgaklis.
Ressina notes that the stories end up reading as “mini time capsules of their lives,” and that the workshops offer a different kind of outlet compared to what the kids are typically asked to do at school. “Here,” she says, “their own reality is the assignment.”
Marcy Kastner, director of early childhood education and day camps and co-ordinator of children’s services at the YM-YWHA, says that they are also thrilled to be involved.
“I think it’s fabulous for the children’s self-esteem in becoming young authors and gaining exposure to the library and the workshops. It gives them the opportunity to be proud of themselves and to be creative at the same time.”
For more information on the Kids Write Network, click here.