Like clockwork, the buses turn down the narrow street, their steel frames glinting in the sunlight. At the corner, a man in a short beard, radio clipped to his hip, waves them onward. The time: 9:00 a.m. The place: an ordinary school parking lot in the heart of Boro Park.
The destination? Camp HASC, for seven weeks of endless care and fun. On the sidewalk, a mother pushes her son up to the crowded, noisy lot. Plush mini bunny rabbits are clipped cheerfully to the wheelchair frame around him, but his smile, ear to ear, is what captures attention. The crowd buzzes with excitement as small groups of joy form. Counselors, parents, siblings, campers. Rav Binyamin Eisenberger, shlita, and many other notable community members mingle with the crowd, warmly shaking campers’ hands and wishing them a wonderful summer. In the corner of the yard, a young girl twirls in place, her mother’s hand gripped in hers. “Shabbos Shabbos!” she sings, blissfully ignorant of the day, Wednesday. Her soft blond curls are pulled back neatly in a bun, a smattering of freckles dance across the bridge of her nose. At her side stand two counselors in powder-blue camp shirts, faces mirroring her open, endless glee. “The counselors are malachim,” says her mother. “This is her third year and she looks forward to camp all year. All year, she’s singing camp songs.”
Fayge Shapiro* weaves through the crowd, looking more like a coordinator than a parent as she helps direct foot traffic. Her son has been going to camp for five years now. “He’s really adorable—he must be the most photographed child at Camp HASC,” she says as she proudly points him out, a lively boy right in the center of the crowd who commands the warm attention of three counselors around him. “It’s his place. Aside from the break Camp HASC gives to the parents and families—which is so, so important—it’s the happiness, the happiness you can almost touch that makes Camp HASC such a magical place.”
Sarah Bennet’s* sister is one of Camp HASC’s oldest campers. She has been going to camp for 35 years. And Sarah also describes Camp HASC as a place of pure happiness. “Everyone should experience it, at least once, to appreciate the level of happiness there. To experience the atmosphere. To see the incredible counselors at work. It’s heaven on earth, really! When we go up to visit her there’s always such joy, everywhere.”
And what do the incredible counselors have to say? “This is my second year. My first year, I thought I’d be more nervous,” one counselor admits with a small smile. “But there’s no time to be nervous—you’re so busy doing the whole time. It’s intense, but it’s just so . . . amazing. There’s no other way to describe it!”
“It’s four counselors for every three campers,” the counselor next to her explains, her hand gripping a young boy’s. “This way, there’s always one counselor per camper if one of us needs a break. We sleep in bunk beds—counselor on top, camper on the bottom.” Beside her, her friend holds the camper’s backpack. It’s her first year as a counselor at Camp HASC. Is she nervous? She shrugs off the question with, “We had training the week before camp and orientation, so I feel comfortable. They explained that there’s always someone around if you need extra help. And I’m just really excited.”
A coach bus pulls up and crouches down with a hiss. As one, an orderly pocket of parents, counselors, and campers head towards it.
To the side of the door, a young autistic boy sways, his small pudgy hands firmly gripping the handle of his roll-on luggage. Beside him, his counselor stands patiently. Gently he murmurs that the suitcase goes in the pile … the suitcase will be there when he arrives. Over and over he repeats himself as the child stares bravely forward, locked in his own world. Each and every morning since Chanukah, this boy insisted his mother pack his suitcase for Camp HASC. Now, the day was finally here! At last, his suitcase was on its way—with him in tow—to Camp HASC, the happiest place in the mountains.
Camp HASC is a summer program for children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities. Camp HASC is unique in its ability to meet the complex personal, social, therapeutic, and medical needs of its special-needs campers, who enjoy a seven-week sleepaway-camp experience.
Camp HASC could use a break, too. Please support its work by calling 845-292-6821, or visit camphasc.org.