Inspired by his time as a Chai Lifeline volunteer and Camp Simcha counselor, David Stulberger finds his calling
Three years ago, David Stulberger had been working as a manager at a New York City-based industrial supply distributor when he realized he needed to find his true calling.
“I was young and I didn’t have a strong path or plan for life,” said the Woodmere native, now 28. “At that point, I had been at my job for about a year and I wasn’t feeling the fire or truth behind what I was doing.”
Stulberger thought about the two things he was passionate about: running and Chai Lifeline.
An avid runner, Stulberger was first introduced to Chai Lifeline in 2013 when he participated in the Las Vegas Half Marathon, where he ran for Team Lifeline, an endurance training program that brings runners to destination races across the country to raise funds for Chai Lifeline.
“My friend had told me about the Las Vegas Half Marathon for Team Lifeline,” he shared. “Before then, I only ran a 5K race, so when I signed up, it was originally for the trip to Vegas (laughs). But then, when I saw the camaraderie and energy of the Chai Lifeline kids and staff, the atmosphere of hope and inclusion, I felt something was really special about the organization and decided I wanted to become more involved.”
Stulberger realized he wanted a career where he could help others and began looking into options in the healthcare field. Having previously earned his bachelor’s degree in economics and business administration at Queens College, Stulberger decided to go back to school at Farmingdale State College in Long Island. For two years he took pre-requisite courses to apply to nursing programs and got hands-on experience as a certified nursing assistant and as a hospital respite volunteer for Chai Lifeline.
In summer 2017, he decided to apply as a counselor at Camp Simcha Special. At age 25, he was slightly older than the average counselor.
“When I was 19, I was worried I wasn’t mature enough to be a counselor, especially for kids with cancer and chronic illness. I was worried it would be way too intense for me,” he said. “Even though I was older, I was still nervous, but Dembi (Camp Simcha Head Counselor Ari Dembitzer) reassured me that I was ready.”
During Stulberger’s first summer, he served as a rotating counselor for a camper named Sam, who had familial dysautonomia, a rare genetic disease. He would assist Sam with his activities of daily living, help him take his medications, and accompany him to the infirmary whenever he was feeling ill. The pair hit it off right away and the following summer, Sam’s parents asked Stulberger to be his main counselor.
“We still keep in touch outside of camp as well,” said Stulberger.
Knowing that Sam’s favorite football player was quarterback Nick Foles, Stulberger arranged for the Super Bowl MVP to record a special birthday message for Sam last year.
“The Eagles had just won the Super Bowl and Sam loved Nick Foles,” Stulberberger said. “So I decided to get Sam a special gift for his 10th birthday. After numerous attempts at contacting Foles, I finally managed to get him to record a message and then drove to New Jersey to spend the day with Sam and his family for his birthday.”
Inspired by his time at Camp Simcha and involvement with Chai Lifeline, Stulberger has found his calling.
This December, he will complete his studies at the University of Miami’s School of Nursing & Health Studies. After graduating, he hopes to pursue a nursing career in pediatric oncology or neurology.
“Volunteering for Chai Lifeline gave me a unique opportunity to connect with the kids,” he said. “I think of kids like Sam, who I had seen really come out of his comfort zone when he went on the zip-line in camp and how accomplished he felt afterward. These kids teach you a lot about yourself. They teach you to appreciate the things we usually take for granted.”
Stulberger continues to run, having participated in two marathons and 20 half marathons. This coming February will be his seventh Miami Half Marathon for Team Lifeline. Stulberger will be running for New York-based Team Peri, named for another Chai Lifeline warrior, Peri Finkelstein, who has muscular dystrophy. To date, he has raised over $40,000 for Team Lifeline.
“When the going gets tough while I’m running, I think about Peri taking her steps at the end of the finish line, at the last mile. I think of her, and all the kids of Chai Lifeline who bravely face their struggles, and I just keep going and going.”