Each school year, many children look forward to the summer months with great anticipation, eagerly counting down the days to the camp experience that awaits them. For children and families experiencing illness or loss, the benefits of camp are many, bringing joy, friendship, and camaraderie, as well as instilling confidence, for those dealing with such challenges.
Summer Dayz, located at Sha’arei Bina Torah Academy for Girls in Hollywood, Florida, is a day camp for children ages 4-13. The campers are patients going through the hardships of cancer or other severe or chronic illnesses, as well as their siblings. The program, launched in 2011 and sponsored by Ryan and Dini Shapiro of Bal Harbour, is operated by Chai Lifeline Southeast, the regional office of the international children’s health support network.
According to Ellen Weiss, director of Chai Lifeline Southeast, there are 30-50 campers “at any given time,” throughout the five-week program. The counselors are volunteers, many of whom are high school students and recent graduates.
Esther Fettman, director of Summer Dayz and volunteer coordinator for Chai Lifeline Southeast, shared, “The idea behind Summer Dayz was to give social and emotional support for families undergoing the stress of caring for a child or loved one with illness. Our counselors interact one-on-one with the campers and build long-lasting relationships that continue throughout the year.”
Yonatan Klecky, 18, head counselor at Summer Dayz, had recently returned from studying abroad at a yeshiva in Israel. Klecky, who is from Miami Beach, has been volunteering at Summer Dayz for the past three summers. “My mother passed away from cancer when I was 7 years old, so I understand a lot of what these kids are going through,” he shared. “Chai Lifeline was there for my family during that difficult time, and I felt a need to give back.”
The program hosts a variety of activities appealing to all age groups such as culinary competitions and arts and crafts projects. The campers also go on special trips, whether it’s enjoying the outdoors at the zoo or cooling off indoors at Dave & Buster’s.
Shayne Sitbon, 7, of Hollywood, has congenital muscular dystrophy (CMD). He has been attending Summer Dayz for the past three summers. His mother, Mari, says, “Shayne really loves camp. He enjoys the activities and trips, and the counselors are absolutely amazing. They know how to have fun and offer genuine personal attention to each camper.”
For more information on Chai Lifeline Southeast call the office at 395 946-9990 or visit www.chailifeline.org.