Stop. Breathe. Relax…and Become Inspired

By Michael Roochvarg
In Original Articles

roochvarg, camp yofi, ramah darom; MatanThe songs have changed. The dance moves are different. I guess you could say an awful lot has changed in these last ten years of Camp Yofi at Ramah Darom. It’s hard to remember what it was like those first three summers, back when I was a camper; after all, I was only ten. But some memories are just so powerful, they seem to transcend time. As I prepared to be a counselor for Camp Yofi, these memories quickly returned to my mind almost as fast families started arriving at camp.

I was only 9, 10, and 11 years old when I attended Camp Yofi with my family for those first three incredible summers so I have forgotten a lot. However, the things I do remember shine like lighthouses in my memory still to this day. And there I was, nervously watching families pull into camp, intimidated by the mammoth job that lay ahead of me for the next five days. How could I possibly impact people in the same way that I was impacted as a camper here? Sure, my brother has autism, but I have known him my whole life. How am I supposed to interact with someone who has autism whom I have just met for the first time?

Now Stop. Breathe. Relax…and become inspired.

Life has a funny way of making something so blissfully simple, like enjoying the beauty in the world, challenging and difficult to navigate at times. There were parents at Yofi this summer who said that the night time adult programs were the first opportunities that they have had to be alone and “out” in years. But at Yofi, they get to do that each night. The older-aged campers, who have siblings with autism, get to eat lunch together and discuss what it is like to live with their brothers and sisters. For these 10-year-old kids, there is nowhere else in the entire world where they feel as comfortable talking about the challenges and the joys of living with their disabled brothers and sisters. The emotions and words that they are expressing and verbalizing are powerful beyond measure. I remember things that were discussed at my sibling lunches ten years ago when I was sitting in that very same circle talking about my brother. When they say how much they love Camp Yofi, how much it means to their families, and how they “wish they would never grow out” of the program so that they could come back year after year, words lose meaning. Nothing begins to describe the bonds and intangible connections that are made between families and between campers at Camp Yofi.

As cliché as it is to say, Camp Yofi really is a magical place, so I wanted to find out who was holding the wand. Sue Cabot, Special Needs Coordinator, NSU (Nova Southeastern University), and Susan Tecktiel, Director, Camp Yofi, are two of the most incredible people on this planet. Nothing could function at all without the time, energy and experience that they put into making sure that Yofi is safe, nurturing, and life-changing. But surely the parents play a big role in this, too, for if it weren’t for them, there would be no families to attend Camp Yofi. And then there are the other staff members, like myself, who are trained in different capacities to create a fruitful and upbeat environment for the campers. It really does take a village to build community.

Now Stop. Breathe. Relax…and become inspired.

There is no wand. It is not “magic,” but rather the purest, simplest, most natural form of family, life, and love. Sure, the songs may have changed and sure, the dance moves are different, but Yofi continues to be a community infectious with love and acceptance and the only way to fully understand that is by experiencing it firsthand.

michael roochvarg

 

Michael Roochvarg is a long-time camper and a third-year staff member at Ramah Darom. He is a sophomore at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, where he is studying Business and Sociology.