Discovering My Passion at My Happy Place
By Ethan Isaacs
As a second semester high school senior who is going to college in a few months, I can confidently say I attribute my success to Keshet. Not only has it kept me employed, but it has taught me valuable lessons. Plus, Keshet has given me an opportunity to create meaningful bonds with the participants that will last a lifetime.
Keshet integrates individuals with disabilities of all ages into everyday life. At Camp Chi, Keshet runs the inclusion and Avodah programs, which allow individuals with special needs to experience the magic of living in cabin and participating in camp activities. I am so proud to be a part of the Keshet Community, especially since I have admired it since I was a 6th grader in Tsofim. Six years ago, on the first day of my summer in Tsofim, I was lucky to be part of a cabin who had a camper who came to Chi with Keshet support. While he did not spend all day with the cabin, he was an integral part of our community. I made so many great memories with him that year. While bonds were forged between me and my new friend, his one-on-one counselor reinforced and supported those bonds. He would keep his distance from his camper, allowing him to form social attachments, but was also near enough that he was still in reach. He would also support his camper by slowly walking him through any difficulties. These were impactful observations in my Tsofim year but my real interest in Keshet and being a one-on-one counselor wasn’t fully sparked until Habo year.
I was older and more mature when Habo summer came around. I had a second cabin mate with Keshet support. After just a week, he quickly became a great friend, and is still one of my best friends today. That summer, I learned what it meant to lend a helping hand to the participants supported by Keshet. I learned that the only thing I needed to do was be a good friend. In those four weeks, I’d been in the talent show with him, been in multiple specialties with him and we became inseparable. At the same time, I was learning the do’s and don’ts from his one-on-one counselor. Habo really changed my perspective on the Keshet program and I knew I could not limit my involvement to just camp. During my freshman year of high school, I started volunteering every Sunday for Keshet. I worked at Ida Crown Jewish Academy in Evanston, helping run the SOAR Sunday school program. I met many new people from the participants to the staff, and every Sunday I worked, my love continued to grow. I started partaking in other Keshet activities like bowling and choir. I gained plenty of experience and made precious bonds with various members in the community over the course of two years, until I took my involvement one step further during my SIT summer.
For anyone who does not know about the SIT program, it is the last step to becoming a Camp Chi staff member. For eight weeks, you train to become the best you can be by working various activities and shadowing under real staff. On my first day of SIT summer, I knew I wanted to shadow counselors with Keshet. Two weeks flew by and it was time for my first placement shadowing under a counselor. My first placement was with the Avodah cabin, which is a program created Chi and Keshet created where young adults and teens with disabilities engage in both work and camp related activities. Most of the participants in the program were individuals I had previously worked with outside of camp, so introductions were not necessary. I learned so much in the week I spent with Avodah, especially since I had never experienced that unique Chi type of setting before. They were a group of hardworking individuals who persevered through any challenge in their way. After working hard all day, we would relax and participate in camp activities. I made some unforgettable memories in Avodah and learned useful skills that boosted my affection even more for the Keshet program. My final day of working with Avodah was sad, but I knew that my work with Keshet that summer was not over. My sixth week of SIT summer, I was assigned as a one-on-one shadow to a Habo camper. Seeing inclusion in action from the perspective of a staff member, in the same village where the inclusion program became my passion was so surreal. I was captivated by the work and spirit that the camper and his counselor had. After a whole week of shadowing, I not only bonded with my camper, but with his whole cabin. It was the day I finished shadowing that week, that I knew I wanted to not only do more in the Keshet, but also work with individuals with special needs in the future.
Flash forward and I am currently an employee at the Keshet. In addition to working every Sunday, I worked the after-school recreation program every Monday and Wednesday at Ida Crown Jewish Academy. I also worked five weeks last summer at Ida Crown as a day counselor. While I could not work last summer as a one-on-one counselor at Chi due to COVID 19, I plan to return to Chi this summer. Keshet has changed my life and I am truly grateful for all they do. And I may have never known about their work and discovered my passion had I not had the experiences I had at Camp Chi. Thanks to Keshet and Chi, I found a place to enjoy myself while helping others in the process and I plan to continue working in the same field in college.
Ethan Isaacs spent 7 summers at Camp Chi. A SIT of 2019, Ethan is a senior at Francis W. Parker High School who plans to continue to pursue his passion of working with individuals with special needs in his college education and beyond.