Some happy Shalva campers
Artist’s rendering of National Shalva Center
Artist’s rendering of National Shalva Center
Some happy Shalva campers
Some happy Shalva campers

By Rochelle Maruch Miller

Shalva leads the way the world understands, cares for, and embraces disability. Yossi Samuels is the inspiration behind its founding and the motivation for its continued growth. It all began with the heartfelt pledge that Yossi’s mother, Malki, made to Hashem.

“When Yossi was 11 months old, he became blind, deaf, and acutely hyperactive due to a faulty vaccination,” explained Kalman Samuels, Yossi’s father, founder and chairman of Shalva. “It was an impossible situation. We were hopeless and helpless. You couldn’t put a glass or vase out because Yossi would break anything within sight. Malki and I invested all of our efforts into Yossi, but it left us–and our other children–drained.”

Friends and professionals–with the best of intentions–suggested that they place Yossi in an institution to alleviate the family’s burden, but the couple would hear nothing of it. “I didn’t get Yossi in a corner store,” Malki responded adamantly whenever the subject was raised.

“As difficult as the situation was, Malki never gave up,” Kalman says.

Yossi was eight years old when he experienced a breakthrough similar to that of Helen Keller. He was working with Shoshana Weinstock, a gifted and patient therapist who happens to be blind, when he learned Hebrew finger spelling stimulated into the palm of his hand. “Shulchan was the first word he learned, and after that, he was ‘off to the races’–there was no stopping him!” Kalman exclaims.

Malki founded Shalva as an afternoon program for children with disabilities to help their families cope and provide much needed respite. From its humble “Mom and Pop” beginnings in the Samuels’ Jerusalem apartment over 26 years ago, the organization has experienced exponential growth and achievement. Shalva will soon be transitioning into its new National Center, a state-of-the-art 11-story building.

Yossi’s intelligence, charm, wit, and joie de vivre are a constant source of nachat to his parents, family, and anyone who has the privilege of meeting him. He has traveled the world–Switzerland, Thailand, and beyond–and has met with many celebrities and political dignitaries. “Yossi has been hosted by President George W. Bush and invited to Volvo of Switzerland,” Kalman says. “He is an accomplished horseback rider and a certified wine connoisseur and he is a political maven who can tell you anything you want to know.”

Accomplished and amiable, Yossi Samuels is an ambitious young man who is able to do just about anything he sets his heart and mind to. His successes are a true testament to Shalva’s work and mission.

Believing that the care of children with disabilities should not be left to the family alone, Malki and Kalman Samuels created a therapeutic environment in which these children could grow and thrive.

Non-denominational and free of charge, Shalva’s programs range from infancy to adulthood. Shalva, the Israel Association for Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities, is dedicated to offering high quality care for individuals with disabilities, empowering their families and promoting social inclusion. Through over 26 years of award-winning program development, Shalva has become an integral part of Israel’s landscape.

Summer camp affords children an environment in which to grow their social skills and expand their social circle. It is here where lifetime memories are created and lasting friendships are formed. A veritable breath of fresh air for the youngsters who participate in its program, Camp Shalva includes a local day camp and a traveling sleepaway camp program. Day camp activities are conducted at Shalva’s current campus, allowing the children to enjoy special trips and activities while also encouraging them to flourish within their therapy schedules.

Camp Shalva’s sleepaway camp program is a dream come true for the 200 participants and their families. Under the warm and highly professional supervision of Shalva’s dedicated staff, the happy campers travel to the North where they spend eight glorious days and nights doing what children enjoy most–playing at water parks, viewing themed shows, and creating lasting friendships. The 1:1 camper-to-staff ratio ensures that every camper has safe and wholesome fun.

For family members that are raising a child with disabilities, Camp Shalva provides much needed respite, precious opportunities to relax and rejuvenate.

Shalva opens its doors when others close for the summer. Prior to the inception of Camp Shalva, many parents struggled to invent creative ways to fill the gap in the summer months. Even the most well-orchestrated plans could not replace the necessary therapeutic and recreational needs of these children. Realizing the need for a summer program that would provide constant care, the administrators of Shalva were spurred to action and Camp Shalva was founded.

With the development of this acclaimed program, children with disabilities are afforded the opportunity to grow over the summer while also having a fun experience and learning crucial independent-living skills.

“Now my son with special needs can enjoy the summer just like his siblings,” says the mother of a happy Shalva camper. “The whole family wins.”

Inclusion is a key component to all of Shalva’s programs, and Camp Shalva is a prime example of Shalva’s success in bringing their campers into the community’s facilities. Both society and the campers can share in the simple pleasures of summer while cultivating more inclusive ideas.

This summer promises to be the summer of much content, with Camp Shalva opening its doors to more campers than ever before. Simply stated, Camp Shalva will provide more therapy, more inclusion, and more precious respite time for the families of children with disabilities.

For the children attending Camp Shalva, the experience is magical as they taste the joys of childhood. For their parents and siblings, this respite is a special opportunity to spend quality time together–camping, hiking, biking–doing all the activities most families do while vacationing.

“Every child is precious and deserves to experience summer camp,” says Kalman Samuels. “For the children of Camp Shalva and their families, the camp experience is a necessity.” And while it may not take a village to raise a child, it takes Shalva’s dedicated team of professionals to provide a child with the tools to develop emotionally, physically, and socially. “Our services are provided free of charge to the children and their families.” Kalman explains. “In order to make this happen, we must raise $1,200 per child to cover camp expenses. For our kids, camp is a lifeline–every one of them gets changed by the positive experience.”

With the grand opening of Shalva’s National Center in Israel just months away, this is an extraordinary year for the organization.

In order to continue in its noble mission, the generous support of Shalva’s gracious donors is vital. Please join Five Towns Friends of Shalva at Thursday Night Live, a benefit for Camp Shalva. This not-to-be-missed event, featuring Wendy Liebman, will take place on Thursday, June 23 at 8:00 p.m., at the Lawrence home of Jamie and Yoni Leifer.

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