| Finding Family and Support at The J
"There’s so much to consider when selecting a summer camp for any child, but imagine doing that when your child is facing a serious health issue".
That’s the predicament Yelena Boxer and Brian Kelly found themselves in when Aiden, then 5 years old and in Pre-K at the Mandel JCC’s Early Childhood Program, was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor. Last June, the family traveled to New York, where doctors removed the tumor and pituitary gland. Remarkably, Aiden was discharged from the hospital after just eight days, a feat his mom credits with the psychosocial skills he learned from the Early Childhood program and, in particular, from Joan Morgenstern, The J’s Early Childhood Director.
“Because of his preschool experience, Aiden had the social and developmental tools needed to be able to articulate his feelings and emotions throughout the hospital stay,” said Yelena. “He was able to tell us what he needed, face his fears, be brave and recover from the operation in record time. I attribute so much of that to the skills he learned in the Early Childhood program.”
Ten days after leaving the hospital and with summer already underway, only one restriction remained – to avoid contact sports. Wanting Aiden to enjoy the rest of the summer and be active in a safe setting, his parents decided he would join older sister Shayna at The J’s Francine and Benson Pillo Family Performing Arts Camp, largely because they already knew and trusted the staff.
“Aiden was excited about attending camp, and we were grateful that The J’s theatre camp was a little less rugged than a traditional day camp, so it offered him some protection,” Yelena said. “He loved it and was just a normal kid there, even though he looked a little different because of the operation. It was a very supportive environment.”
Aaron Tevlowitz, Director of Day Camps and Children Services, says The J tailors J-Day Camp experiences to every child’s needs, interests and abilities. “When I was asked if there was something we could do for Aiden, I immediately said yes,” he said. “Sta kept an extra eye on him and were always checking in to see how he felt, but they did not hover. If Aiden needed a break, he took a break until he was ready to get back into the thick of things. That is a true testament to the training our camp staff go through and the emphasis they put on allowing campers to grow at their own speed in a safe and nurturing environment.”
Each summer, more than 600 children attend one of six J-Day Camps located at The J’s Halle Park Site in Burton, Safran Park on its Beachwood campus, or Fairmount Temple also in Beachwood. In addition to the Pillo Family Performing Arts Camp, J-Day Camps also over: Anisfield Day Camp; Anisfield B’Ivrit (formerly Hebrew Immersion); Sports Camp and J Sports Academy; and Adventure and Travel Camps. A motivated sta of 200 counselors and specialists ensure campers are active, engaged, safe and having a blast.
As for Aiden, he had so much fun at camp last year that this year -- with no medical restrictions – he insisted on returning to Performing Arts Camp and Shayna will again be joining him.
The family’s connection to The J remains strong year-round. Aiden and Shayna attend Kids Club, The J’s after school program, where they do their homework, take swim lessons, and play with other children. Brian, who participates in The J’s Indoor Triathlon and Biathlon, exercises at The J regularly and Yelena joins him on the weekend and has also participated in the Indoor Triathlon.
For Yelena and Brian, who don’t have family living in Cleveland, The J has become a home away from home.
“It’s been a godsend for us because we’re both working parents,”Yelena said. “Starting with preschool, and now J-Day Camps, it’s been a place where the kids are safe and well cared for and could grow when we weren’t with them. We are so lucky to have found The J and couldn’t ask for a more welcoming community for our whole family.”