For more than 15 years, the JCC's Camp Chi and Keshet, a school for children with disabilities, have come together to offer children the opportunity to experience overnight camp in an supportive environment .
Every year, more than 1,000 campers come to Lake Delton, Wisc., to experience a summer of activities and friendship.
"The majority of our campers come from the Chicagoland area," said the camp's associate director Brad Finkel. " We also have campers from Minneapolis and St. Paul area and we have a hand full of campers from all over the world.
"They live together, the Keshet campers and Camp Chi campers. They participate in all the activities, they eat meals together, they sit around the camp fire together and it becomes one beautiful community."
The integrated partnership between Camp Chi and Keshet is a successful model.
One camper with disabilities is integrated into a cabin with 11 mainstream Camp Chi camper. Each special needs camper has a counselor who becomes part of the cabin group.
CEO and Executive Director of Keshet Abbie Weisberg said accommodations are provided for every camper with a disability.
"If our child needs to have quiet time in the locker room, they have time for our kids to go into the locker room when all the other kids are not in there so that our kids could change and have their dignity and independence," Weisberg said.
Allie Gross and Chloel Lavarre are now 17 years old. They met at day camp when they were in grade school.
"Chloe was in my group and she had a Teletubbie backpack and at the point it was a rarity to have that backpack because we have moved on to something like Power Puff Girls or something like, but Chloe, I noticed her and she was different and she was special and I was attracted to that and so I invited her over for a play date," Allie said.
After all these years, they are close friends.
"I'd say my favorite Camp Chi story is seeing the relationship between our Keshet campers and our JCC camper and when we read the friendship request forms and we have a Keshet camper who requests general Camp Chi campers and mainstream Camp Chi campers who request Keshet campers," Finkel said. "It's that special in your heart and that you're doing something good not only at camp but for the entire community."
Camp Chi is open to all children with disabilities. You do not need to be a student at Keshet to attend the camp.