Baltimore Attractions Gear Up for Family-Friendly Summer

A lot of times it is the tourists who hit up places like the Inner Harbor or Maryland Zoo more than those who live here. However, this spring and summer, the main attractions in Baltimore are that for a reason — and some of the best kid-oriented, family-friendly destinations.

From cruises on the Bay and retired ship tours to the National Aquarium and numerous summer festivals near the pavilion, it’s easy to imagine the Inner Harbor as a return stop for any family.

But take special notice this season of Port Discovery Children’s Museum and the Maryland Science Center, both of which have programming to delight children of all ages.

Port Discovery gears itself toward younger kids, getting them interested in the world around them through hands-on play and learning. The littlest ones even get their own shout-out with Little Days, when the museum is focused on those 5 years old and younger. These happen once each month this summer: May 13, June 10, July 8 and Aug. 12.

And for those kids who may struggle a bit more or who have special needs, Port Discovery has a whole week dedicated to activities and experiments that will specifically appeal to them, May 9-12.

The museum also has its usual big events for the 4th of July and Labor Day, as well as themed carnivals and bashes throughout the summer.

“We have programs literally every day of the week and weekend,” said Abbi Ludwig, marketing director for the museum.

One of the key tenets for Port Discovery is accessibility, she added. Ticket prices can be out of reach for some families, so she encouraged people to check out Target nights the third Friday of each month when it’s $2 admission from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

“When people visit, the looks on faces is always one of amazement,” Ludwig said. “And what I hear is that they can’t see it all in one visit.”

The Maryland Science Center caters generally to middle-school-aged kids, although almost all kids will find something they like, said Chris Cropper, senior director of marketing.

The Science Center’s big summer showstopper programming is its weeklong summer camp sessions. This year, there are five sessions in July and August, and families can choose from full-day camps (with lunch provided) or half-day ones.

The session themes are broken down by recommended age groups (6-7, 8-9, 9-11 or 11-13) and themes, which range from Nature Crafters and Astronaut Training Camp to Sci-Fi Investigators and Dinosaurs Rock!

“I think the thing that’s unique about us as opposed to regular day camps with sports and activities is we’re engaged in exploration here,” Cropper said. “We’re having fun but also learning and engaging.”

Aside from the camps, the center also features theme festivals each month during the summer, like Mess Fest in June, Bubble Days in July and Backyard Science Days in August.

The Maryland Zoo is a perennial favorite, of course, offering a variety of programming all year. But event series pick up in the spring and summer. One of the most popular series is Breakfast with the Animals (including penguins, giraffes, elephants and chimps, depending on the day), presented on one or two Sundays a month starting in March. Some days are already sold out.

Parents with little kids can rejoice because Stroller Safari will continue, offering animal stories and songs while parents, yes, stroll through the park the third Thursday of each month.

And the zoo event that tends to sell out in advance is the Zoo Snooze, an overnight stay among the animals for those lucky families who are able to secure tickets. The next kid-friendly ones are coming up Aug. 5-6 and Sept. 9-10.

Summer camp doesn’t have to mean sleepaway camp. Local attractions offer up options fit for any family.

hmonicken@midatlanticmedia.com

The Scoop on Summer Arts Camps

Katie Halushka, 14, prepares to roll sushi as a part of the Kids Cook summer camp at For the Love of Food in Pikesville. (Provided)

Baltimore’s wide range of cultural offerings don’t just cater to adults. Artistically inclined kids can find and fulfill their creativity this summer at an impressive number of local camps. We’ve highlighted a few of them.

Habimah Arts Camp at the JCC’s Owings Mills campus brings a wide range of the area’s art offerings to one place. Campers ages 3 and up can choose from visual arts, performing arts or a combination of genres to suit their interests.

Camp director Melissa Seltzer said in the past, the JCC has worked with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Baltimore Improv Group and professional artists, so kids learn from the artists themselves. Muralist Paul Merkle helped the kids paint a mural one year, and stage makeup artists came to help kids turn themselves into zombies and clowns. The kids also take art-focused field trips to places such as Imagination Stage and the American Visionary Art Museum. The best part, said Seltzer, is the variety offered in the central location of the JCC’s facilities. Kids “can have all these amazing experiences … and also go swimming.”

If your child is a budding Steven Spielberg, the Young Filmmakers Workshop with Steve Yeager has kids make three feature films in three weeks, rotating through all the work of the cast and production crew. After editing, the films premiere at an area movie theater.

Last year, the kids arrived by limousine at Cinemark in Harbor East for a private showing of their movies. Yeager, a filmmaker for 30 years whose biopic of John Waters won best documentary at the Sundance Film Festival, said his camp is unique because “kids participate in a real film situation.”

“It’s the closest facsimile to a real filmmaking experience you can get,” he said. “I’ve been teaching acting for the camera [at Towson University] for 17 years. I don’t want kids to get unrealistic expectations about the business. I want them to see all the jobs, everything that’s involved in making a movie.”

Yeager said he “sets the bar high” for professionalism in the movies the kids create, and the experience is rewarding for him and his campers because “they’re really making high-quality films here.” Kids younger than 13 begin in the general program, Explorations in Film, while older kids choose a focus: acting for the camera, filmmaking or production design. A loose ‘theme’ links the three films: This year’s focus is film noir.

Is cooking an art? Perhaps not the way it’s done in my house, but Nancy Longo of Pierpoint Restaurant said it absolutely can be. “They teach cooking at culinary arts schools, right?” she said, laughing.

Longo, an award-winning chef, holds cooking camps for kids who want to learn how to work safely in the kitchen. With themed camp days such as Mexican, brunch, dessert, chocolate, soups, Italian and more, kids learn how to artistically blend ingredients, creating 8 to 11 plates, which they bring home each night to their hungry and excited families. Kids must be at least 10 years old or “old enough to handle a knife,” said Longo. There is no online signup: Longo wants to speak to each parent individually.

“I need to know if your child has food allergies or is a picky eater, [and I want] to make sure it’s the right fit,” she said. Longo offers individual cooking classes too for children and adults.

The art of theater is the art of storytelling, said Michelle Alexander, education director of Everyman Theatre. And “learning to create stories” is the first step in learning stagecraft. The youngest campers at Everyman’s camps, ages K to 2, use play, drama and music to “kick-start their creativity.” In grades 3 to 5, kids “enter into the theater-making process,” interpreting “tall tales and legends while learning about collaboration onstage.” Teens enter Everyman’s four-week acting intensive. This camp is “skills based,” Alexander explains, to help students “further themselves as actors and artists.” Teens study musical theater, cabaret, stage combat, dance, improvisation and even clowning.

“As a professional theater, the quality of our education reflects the quality of the theater,” Alexander said. Everyman offers adult classes too. “Theater skills help you become a better speaker. And improv is a great skill for networking,” said Alexander. Thinking on your feet “really helps when you have to talk to [strangers] at cocktail parties.”

Erica Rimlinger is a local freelance writer.

Howard County Offers Diverse Camp Experiences

(Provided)

For Jessica Harvey, running her own summer camp is a good way to turn the page from the school year after being cooped up inside a classroom.

Harvey, a third-grade teacher at Scotchtown Hills Elementary School in Laurel, has operated Adventures in Camp since 2005 to provide children ages 3 to 12 with fun, hands-on exercises that encourage learning and adventure for a memorable camp experience. The Columbia-based camp is run by teachers like Harvey and offers math and reading enrichment, along with various sports, arts and crafts, weekly field trips, talent shows and swimming classes.

“The same families come back year after year, but the last three summers, I’ve had parents ask me, ‘Are you going to open up a teen camp? We need a teen camp,’” said Harvey, whose own 5-year-old son, Jackson, and 4-year-old daughter, Ava, attend the camp.

This year, Harvey has taken the advice from the parents of her campers and will, for the first time, offer a program, Adventures in Camp Extreme, geared toward teenagers. It will run for four weeks in July for ages 9 to 17, consisting of field trips to Ocean City, Rehoboth Beach, Del., Kings Dominion, Hershey Park and two college tours per week.

“I absolutely love this, and I see this as my calling,” said Harvey, who added enrollment is still open. “This camp is my baby, and it’s just a big part of who I am.”

(Provided)

Adventures in Camp just one of many camps in Howard County that provides kids with both traditional day camp and specialty camp experiences.

At Camp Gan Israel Howard County, campers are exposed to a rich Jewish cultural experience through interactive
activities, games and events.

The camp has also grown in popularity in recent years. This summer will mark the first time in its three-decade-plus history that the camp will run for six weeks after extending from four weeks to five weeks last year.

Ga-ga is one tradition that has long been a signature staple of the camp for as long as longtime Camp Gan Israel Howard County director Chaya Baron can remember. Ga-ga, which has been played in Jewish summer camps since at least the 1970s, translates to “touch, touch” and is a variant to dodgeball, combining dodging, striking, running and jumping.

Baron, whose parents Rabbi Hillel and Chanie Baron started the Howard County chapter of Camp Gan Israel, said her family has always promoted a festive atmosphere that appeal to children of all ages.

“For people who want their children to be in a Jewish environment, this is a great opportunity through the songs and crafts and themes we put on,” Baron said. “Everything is presented in a fun, loving, exciting way. We really pride ourselves in giving kids the best possible summer they deserve.”

Bet Yeladim Preschool puts on two summer programs, one for children ages 3 to 5 and the other for the age of 2. The camp, which runs eight weeks from June through August, offers weekly specialty programs with different themes, including cooking, “zany brainy” science, amazing athletes, rhythms of the world and art discovery, among others.

(Provided)

Barbara Frederick, longtime associate director of Bet Yeladim, said Wonder Wednesdays have become a fixture in recent years. Each Wednesday, the older camp takes theme-related field trips to places such as Sky Zone Columbia Trampoline Park and J Camps at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC, and both camps also hear from guest speakers.

Throughout the summer, Frederick said, there are roughly 170 children enrolled in Bet Yeladim’s summer programming.

“We’ve always felt that our camp program has been fun and exciting for the children who attend,” said Frederick, who added Bet Yeladim started its camp about 20 years ago. “I think with any type of programming you offer to children and families, you come to a point where you need to change and evolve, which I feel we have done very effectively.”

jsilberman@midatlanticmedia.com

How Jewish is Jewish Camp?

(Photo courtesy of Capital Camps)

For most parents, it is important to consider what factors dictate the Jewish identity of a camp, since the camp experience can go a long way in helping a child form his or her Jewish identity.

For many, sleepaway camps provide the best option. Being away from parents can provide children with the opportunity to meet Jewish peers and form a personal connection to Judaism.

“There is something to be said for being away from home in an environment where you can focus entirely on Jewish life,” said Janna Zuckerman, program manager of the Center for Jewish Camping, an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. “Just from being surrounded by Jewish peers and mentors, you begin to look up to them — they are influencing you and showing you what a Jewish life looks like.”

Zuckerman cites her experience as a child at a Jewish sleepaway camp as having connected her to Judaism.

Marty Rochlin, director of Camp Airy, believes that putting positive Jewish role models in front of kids is one of the things that parents should look for in a camp.

Camp Airy (Photo courtesy of Camp Airy)

“If you ask campers why they’re coming, they might say the activities or the bunkmates or a memorable experience,” he said. “As they get older though, they begin to connect with older kids and staff members and want to emulate them. That is where the kids find the role models that the parents were aiming for from the beginning.”

Zuckerman’s job is to help families find a camp that is the best fit for both parents and campers. For example, some parents may want their child to attend a camp driven by a certain movement of Judaism, while another family might have a child who has never had a Jewish education, and they want their child to learn about the religion in a fun, comfortable atmosphere.

“I think the beauty of summer camp is that there is a different camp for every child,” she said. So, how does a camp determine how Jewish it will be?

Camp Shoresh is a day camp in Adamstown, Md., and is notably “very Jewish” according to Rabbi David Finkelstein, the camp’s director. It is the only camp around that has seven rabbis on the staff, and the rabbis are also aided by a number of Jewish teachers and counselors.

“When the camp was founded 38 years ago, certain standards were set at the beginning,” he said. “It is a Jewish day camp. The word ‘Jewish’ comes before ‘day camp,’ so the ‘Jewish’ had to really implicate some of the major components of Judaism — tefillah, d’var Torah and learning. We combine that with all of these fun things at the same time. When you bring in the Jewish component — not boring classroom-type learning, but exciting interactive back-and-forth — the kids understand that [Judaism] is really about body, mind and soul.”

To exemplify Shoresh’s goal of being a fun and exciting camp with a strong Jewish component, Finkelstein cited that the camp recently build a nine-hole, holiday-themed miniature golf course, with each hole portraying a different Jewish holiday.

Camp Shoresh (Photo by David Stuck)

Capital Camps in Waynesboro, Pa., is a sleepaway Jewish summer camp. Although it has always maintained a Jewish identity, the camp recently engaged in an 18-month process to come up with a Jewish life-vision statement by reaching out to educators, clergy and members of the Jewish community. It also surveyed current camp families, staff and alumni in an effort to determine what was going to be meaningful to the camp and how that would guide everything.

“Our statement centers around five key themes,” explained director Adam Broms. “They are curiosity, community, commitment, conversation and citizenship. The decisions we make Jewishly as a camp are guided by those five categories. We have designed the camp experience to further the vision of these different values.”

For example, in conjunction with these five themes, Capital Camps offers campers a series of “Shabboptions” on Saturday mornings, workshops or activities which aim to help campers explore these themes. A child might choose to engage his or her curiosity on a teva nature walk or to engage the community through lessons in Israeli dance.

One aspect to consider when looking into camps is the difference between sleepaway and day camps.

“I think that it is a different level of incorporating Judaism into 24 hours a day versus eight hours,” said Zuckerman. “Jewish life can still be infused into all activities [at a day camp], but something about an overnight camp environment, waking up to a boker tov (good morning) and going to sleep with Havdalah or a Jewish song, you don’t get to do that at day camp.”

The most important element in making a successful summer, according to Zuckerman, is finding the right camp environment for a child. “I always encourage parents to think about what would make their child most comfortable, especially when thinking about a range of camps that infuse Judaism in different ways.”

dnozick@midatlanticmedia.com

Could It Be Magic? The Transformative Power of Sleepaway Camp

Camp Puh’tok (Provided)

Camp Puh’tok (Provided)

Renowned child psychologist Michael Thompson, author of “Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow,” has written that there are three reasons that the residential camp experience remains so magical: being away from one’s parents; the relationship between campers and counselors; and inhabiting a camp’s “private world with its own rules and rituals and magic.”

That has certainly been the case for the children of Reistertown’s Marci Phillips and Joseph Kontoff, whose two children attend Capital Camps in Waynesboro, Pa.

“I never went to sleepaway camp or ever had any interest in it,” said Phillips. “I am not a camp person.”

But when daughter Sophie was 8, she heard her friends talking about going to Capital Camps and told Phillips and Kontoff she wanted to go there too. Now, going into her fifth year there, she absolutely loves it, which was evident from an unconventional letter home.

“Her camp self wrote a letter to her home self,” said Phillips. “It was basically like, ‘Dear Sophie, I’m so sorry that you are not me because I am at camp having fun and you are at home waiting for school to start. Sucks to be you. Love, Sophie.’

“We were dying when we opened it,” said Phillips. “She really has this perception that Camp Sophie is this person who’s in this camp bubble doing all this fun stuff while Home Sophie is at home. It was super weird and metaphysical, but we got a kick out of it.”

Capital Camps (Provided)

Capital Camps (Provided)

“We noticed the first summer back [from Capital Camps] we saw an increase in maturity in her,” Phillips recalled of Sophie at 8. “She was more willing to do chores around the house with less complaint; she had more self-confidence.”

Her brother too came to love the camp experience.

Marty Rochlin, the director of Camp Airy in Thurmont, said, “We work with other camps during the off-season and what we all agree on is that the chance to have a safe place to grow up and figure things out on your own is one of the greatest things camp has to offer. Take those risks, try those things, meet those people — you can’t do that at home, it’s a unique experience.”

Studies have consistently shown that camp sessions of one week or more have a beneficial impact on autonomy, social skills and physical activity, among other attributes. And depending on the camp’s orientation, children also gain a lot of knowledge from specialized programs.

“That’s the other important aspect for me as a parent,” said Ruti Kadish, whose 13-year-old son, Segev, attends Habonim Dror Camp Moshava in Street, Md. “My kid comes home and tells me about the social justice issues they talked about: food insecurity or immigration or social justice in Israel or climate. Their activities during the day are about those issues in the most fun, creative, crazy ways. He’ll come home and something will come up on the radio, and he’ll say, ‘Yeah, we talked about that at camp and here’s what I think …’”

Of the more than 14,000 summer camps in the U.S., 8,400 are resident camps, many of which target specific activities. Maryland, which is host to both lush natural settings and dynamic urban environments, has dozens of camps that offer a stunning variety of approaches. There are camps for budding chefs, for the wannabe astronaut, for kids with cancer, for aspiring marine biologists. There are camps geared toward computer game software and camps that teach etiquette. There are baseball camps and debate camps; there are city camps and rural camps and camps in the suburbs.

“One of the greatest gifts you can give a child is a sense of success and achievement,” said Alexi K. Grote, director of Camp Puh’tok, which was founded in 1942 in Northern Baltimore County. “An empowering camp experience provides children with an opportunity to learn powerful lessons in community, critical thinking, character building, skill development and healthy living.”

Jennifer Braveman Silber, executive director of Camp Moshava, said, “Being away from home for an extended period of time at an overnight camp promotes the development of self-confidence, problem solving and social skills in children. … Campers advocate for themselves and for each other, they learn to take action if they see a problem, and they have room to make mistakes and grow from those mistakes. Overnight camp provides a safe and supportive environment for kids to learn about who they are as a person, separate from parents and guardians.”

More than the pragmatic effects, it’s the holistic transformation of sleepaway camp that has such power.

“Camp transcends ZIP codes and schools and neighborhoods,” said Rochlin. “It comes across as cheesy to outsiders, but your camp friends become your best friends — your roommates and bridesmaids and best men. You go away from home to learn about yourself, and camp becomes your home as well.”

When Don Webb founded Nature Camps 43 years ago, conjuring magic within the context of exposing children to the natural world was definitely on the agenda. And it worked — not only for campers, but for the broader NC community as well.

“Imagine 200-plus (children, parents, guests and counselors) gathered together in a circle, sharing a vegetarian dinner at the campsite, followed by a similar eager circle of everyone playing all family games, followed by a meaningful sharing/ talking circle — followed by a marvelous Concert-in-the-Woods,” said Webb, trying to summon up a vision of some of the most transcendent NC moments. “This is followed by night hikes, singing around the campfire, magic wish boats in the pool, tie-dying, pottery and carving soapstone necklaces and figurines. It’s an enchanted, peaceful family time for everyone to soak up the joy of one another.”

Daniel Nozick contributed to this report.

lspikol@midatlanticmedia.com

A Dip in the Pool

Merritt Clubs: Towson. (Merritt Clubs)

Merritt Clubs: Towson. (Merritt Clubs)

Despite January’s chill, now is a good time to start considering which swim camps and clubs might be best for your child or children.

Padonia Park Club, 12006 Jenifer Road, Cockeysville

Padonia Park Club CEO Kathy Angstadt reports that her location offers six pools.

“Three of which are in our ‘children’s zone,’” Angstadt said. This particular area being for children 6 and under; the other three pools for swimmers of all ages.

The swim club is the oldest component of Padonia Park Club, which was founded in 1960. In 1972, it added the Lakeside Day Camp, which  resides on the rest of the 29.9 acre piece of Padonia’s property.

What is it that makes the swim club at Padonia so  appealing?

“I think it’s the countryside setting,” said Angstadt. “And yet we’re only minutes away from I-83. That’s an asset.”

Angstadt went on to say that Padonia is also “strong on our club events; we have events for little people up to adults, and also families.”

The swim season starts the Saturday before Memorial Day and lasts through Labor Day, with the campus itself generally open from mid-June to mid- or late August.

Meadowbrook Aquatic & Fitness Center, 5700  Cottonworth Ave., Baltimore

Opening in 1930 as a swim club before burgeoning into a year-long facility with the construction of an indoor pool in 1995, Meadowbrook offers various membership and seasonal packages for those interested in diving in.

General manager John Cadigan said that what makes his club special is “the volume of water and variety of pools when open.” There are indeed five different pools; the facility also boasts one of the few 50-meter indoor/outdoor complexes in the state for truly Olympic-sized refreshing fun.

The estate is family-friendly, Cadigan said, adding that there is a separate pool for children outside, along with playgrounds, tennis courts (for both children and adults) and many activities for children whether it’s the summer swim team, summer swim lessons or summer camp that runs for 5 to 8 year olds called Camp Meadowbrook.

Camp Meadowbrook is three-hour day camp that runs weekly through the summer months (mostly June and July) from 9 a.m. to noon with a snack provided during the lesson portion.

The Michael Phelps Swim School

Operating out of Meadowbrook, the Michael Phelps Swim School is a year-round swim school for children and adults.

“We also have a small program for children on the autism spectrum,” Cathy Bennett, director of the school, said, adding there’s also classes for special needs children and adults scattered through the week.

“We base our programs on how people learn and grow,” said Bennett, who has been teaching swimming lessons at Meadowbrook since she was 13.

Now 65, Bennett is proud to have helped Michael Phelps first learn how to swim when he was at the school — then named the North Baltimore Swim School — and Phelps was a mere 4 years old.

Phelps changed the name to what it is today in 2008 and still stays involved on a consultant and marketing level, helping to expand the brand and “how we can bring swimming to more people,” Bennett said.

The Michael Phelps Swim School is not just for Meadowbrook members, though a participant must sign up for at least a month at a time.

“We want people to be super comfortable with how they are in the water,” Bennett said.

Merritt Clubs (throughout city)

Regional programs and kids club manager Maria Miller has been with Merritt Clubs for 12 years but has operated in her current position for the past “six or seven.”

During this time, she’s helped to make the kids clubs “a safe, fun place, where parents can drop off their children and enjoy their workout” at the gym facilities Merritt provides throughout the city.

In addition to offering camps during the summer and kids club location as drop-off spots for parents working out, Merritt additionally provides swim programs for kids ages 4 to 5 (a Mini Splashers Camp) and a Junior Lifeguard Camp.

The latter teaches various skills to campers such as water safety and equipment safety (ages 8 to 13).

“Our swim camps are huge,” Miller said, adding that there are other specialized camps to choose from through Merritt. “They’re great camps. We’re really just big on making a difference in children’s lives.”

Columbia  Association,  6310 Hillside Court, Suite 100, Columbia

The Columbia Association will be celebrating its 50th  anniversary this summer,  according to aquatics director Marty Oltmanns, who has held his position for the past six months after operating as the assistant aquatics director for seven years. He has also worked as a lifeguard through CA for the better part of the past two decades.

CA offers 23 outdoor pools and five indoor pools, Oltmanns reported. “What makes us unique is the number of pools and different amenities at each location,” he said.

Many pools are enhanced with ADA-approved access wading pools. Others include “splash pads” which Oltmanns said are flat water cement pads covered in play toys for “zero depth play,” which allows kids to run around and play on.

One of the highlights,  according to Oltmanns, is the Columbia Neighborhood Swim League. Each pool has a different team representing a different village; the teams compete over the summer (for children up to age 18 who can swim at least one lap).

CA also rents pools for other camps in addition to those the association hosts.

mklickstein@midatlanticmedia.com

Planning Ahead for an Affordable Summer

Insider_Affording1

(©iStockphoto.com/filo)

For many parents, sending their kids to a summer camp, either day or overnight, is a luxury at first glance. However, with a little extra planning, that crucial summer experience can be within reach. A variety of resources are at the disposal of parents to ensure that their child has an incredible summer experience.

Where to Start Looking?

The first place to begin looking for financial aid is at the very summer camp where you wish to send your child. More often than not, scholarships are provided through the camps themselves.

“We are fortunate to live in a community that has resources both for scholarship and incentive grants. We always suggest reaching out directly to the camp. Things like that are often off of people’s radars,” said Janna Zuckerman, senior planning associate and program manager with the Center for Jewish Camping, an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. “Local camps give out thousands of dollars in scholarships a year. Often, families are uncertain and will hesitate or won’t even ask, thinking it is out of reach.”

Additionally, financial aid is frequently offered through local institutions, which will often set aside funds for a specific cause with which they associate. For example, churches or synagogues may offer need-based scholarships to the camps they sponsor.

A school counselor is also a great resource to help parents. Working one-on-one with a counselor who is familiar with your child’s needs is a good way to find an accommodating camp.

Regardless of where you decide to seek out financial assistance, time is important. Most camps have limited funding as far as scholarships; the earlier you apply, the more likely you will qualify for help.

Need-Based vs. Flat Rate

Financial aid can come in two forms. Most commonly, camps provide financial aid based on need. The application process for need-based scholarships involves submitting information such as tax and income records.

Summer camp programs offered through the local YMCA are a prime example. Lana Smith, director of the Y in downtown Baltimore, explained, “Our guidelines for parents help us find out who is really in need. Once we weigh information about income and circumstances, we can evaluate how much they can receive.”

Recipients of scholarships from the Y can benefit from between 10 percent and 90 percent of the total cost of the camp. In addition to traditional camp programs, the Y offers specialty summer programming such as Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) educational programs and teen adventure camps. And, the camp works with a third-party pay group called the Child Care Subsidy program through the Department of Social Services to provide further financial aid.

Financial aid can also come at a flat rate, depending on factors such as how long the child will attend a camp. PJ Goes to Camp is an example of a local initiative that offers such scholarships.

“One of the biggest issues facing camping today is affordability,” said Mark Gold, director of the PJ Goes to Camp, a funder of the Federation for Jewish Camping’s One Happy Camper program.

The One Happy Camper program is a collaboration between PJ Goes to Camp and 43 other funders nationally. Typically, groups each cover their own region, but PJ Goes to Camp is a unique entity in that it includes gaps not covered by other regions.

Unlike other organizations that might offer need-based scholarships, PJ Goes to Camp has a simple, straightforward system that awards flat rates to all applicants. Gold explained: “A grant requires a minimum stay at camp for 12 days. For camp sessions between 12 and 18 days, we provide $700. For campers attending for 19 days or longer, we provide $1,000.

“[Affordability] impacts camps as much as it impacts parents,” he added. “In our experience, first-time campers are the ones who look to us for grants. Second- or third- year campers though, if they have had an incredible camping experience, a parent might really want to send them back for another amazing summer at the same camp. A lot of camps have separate scholarship funds. Our program is designed as an incentive to get first-time campers who will continue to go back.”

With such a large reach, the program receives a lot of inquiries from individuals who might not be aware that they are eligible for a grant in a different region. In addition to providing financial aid in its own territory, PJ Goes to Camp helps to point such individuals toward a different, more suitable source of aid from within the larger organization.

Stephen Goldstein, senior vice president of Scheinker Investment Partners, reminds parents of yet another route for getting kids to summer camp, which may take more time and planning, but can be effective nonetheless. According to Goldstein: “Other nonprofit organizations and community institutions are a good place for aid, but the best way to send a kid to camp is to save. Once the child is born, you should be putting away money in a savings account.”

dnozick@midatlanticmedia.com

Summer Camp: Finding the Right Fit for Your Child

(©iStockphoto.com/Thodoris_Tibilis)

(©iStockphoto.com/Thodoris_Tibilis)

Now that summer camp sign-up season is upon us, parents of children with disabilities face added pressures and concerns in their search for the right fit.

According to Jennifer Lazlo Mizrahi, president of Respect- Ability, “there are two kinds of camps: a camp for just kids with disabilities and a camp for everyone with an inclusion program.”

The differences are significant, and there are benefits to each.

Exclusive or Inclusive?

A camp exclusively for children with disabilities is beneficial in that kids get to be with their peers — other campers who have the same or similar difficulties. “It is frequently good for kids with a mobility challenge,” Mizrahi said. “Typically, inclusive camps have a lot of activities like rope climbing and canoeing.”

It can be frustrating for a child with physical disabilities to be unable to fully join others in assorted activities. Additionally, a camp solely for children with disabilities will most likely know how to handle every possible situation that could arise.

On the other hand, inclusive camps provide children with special needs “the benefit of being able to make friends with their typically developing peers and vice-versa,” said Mizrahi. “The inclusion aspect benefits both typical and special-needs campers.”

Flexibility Counts

Leslie Seid Margolis, managing attorney at Disability Rights Maryland, explained that flexibility on the camp’s part should be a huge item on the checklist when searching for an appropriate camp.

“Maybe a child with autism has some sensory issues and really doesn’t like getting his or hands dirty, so arts and crafts might be an issue,” Margolis said. “It could be a child with Down syndrome who needs a little extra time to learn a skill.”

It may benefit the camper to attend a camp that is happy to accommodate, either getting a little bit of extra help for the camper or finding a different craft or activity that will make the child more comfortable.

“The camp shouldn’t have to completely change everything to adopt a certain child,” Margolis said. “Look for a camp that is willing to be flexible and make accommodations for your child.”

Ideally, a camp will be required to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act and accommodate disabled children. However, it is important to ascertain whether a camp is required to comply. If the camp is run by a religious entity, for instance, it might not be obliged to provide all of the help a child needs. Accommodations can differ depending on the disability of the child.

The Trust Factor

The essential thing for a parent to look for when sending their special needs child to camp, however, is trust.

“Parents need to be able to trust that they can tell a camp of their kid’s specific needs and trust them to make sure that it will be taken care of,” said Mizrahi. “Sometimes it will fail if there is not trust — a parent won’t feel comfortable telling the camp about a kid needing ADHD medication daily and the kid will be kicked out for being too hyper without the medicine.”

Advanced planning and an honest exchange of information can facilitate the formation of a trusting relationship. For parents, this means giving as much detail as possible regarding their children’s needs (such as medications and behavioral concerns). Conversely, the camp staff should be welcoming and willing to work with parents to figure out how best to help their individual child grow and learn.

Parents also may want to share with a camp strategies that have proven effective for their child in other settings.

“Things that have been successful in the school setting such as behavioral support can help too,” said Margolis. “If parents are willing to make school staff, such as counselors, accessible to camp staff to help consult and plan if there is something potentially complicated, it always helps to have someone they can ask for guidance.”

dnozick@midatlanticmedia.com

A Different Education

(Provided)

(Provided)

The Maryland School for the Blind and Maryland School for the Deaf both provide opportunities for those interested in donating their time, energy or financial assistance to worthy causes.

Located in Nottingham, touching (physically and metaphorically) both Baltimore County and Baltimore City, MSB is “one of the best schools for the blind in the country,” according to Michael Bina, who has been president of the school for eight years.

“Baltimore is rich in talent,” Bina said about those who might be interested in or have in the past volunteered at MSB.

“One of the reasons Baltimore is such a caring, giving community is the spirit we have of being a big city without being impersonal. Our human resource department accepts applications for volunteers, and we look at the [potential candidate’s] particular skill sets and interests.”

Being a residential school providing services to 200 on-site students as well as having an outreach program serving 1,300 students throughout the state, MSB grants volunteer opportunities to those willing to come to the campus itself as well as those wishing to work with the organization in closer proximity to their own community where the MSB is represented.

“Our kids benefit from diversity, people coming in from different backgrounds,” Bina said. “It’s the whole idea of people learning about different cultures, religions and languages.”

Though Bina said, “We don’t do the drives or capital campaigns or things like that,” he added that interested parties can look into volunteering for specialized weekend and summer programs — be they, say, sports or theatrical performances organized by the school — along with donating funds to the school’s website: marylandschoolfortheblind.org.

(Provided)

(Provided)

Bina also went so far as to offer up his email for any person wishing to learn more, adding, “The door is always open.”

That email address is michaelb@mdschblind.org.

For Bina, this is all a matter of “investing in community responsibility.”

The Maryland School for the Deaf, meanwhile, is ramping up “celebrations for its 150th year from August 2017,” according to an email from program coordinator Sarah-Jane Flook.

“What we would most value from [JT] readers would be their participation as players or sponsors at our annual golf tournament, which will likely take place in September 2017,” Flook continued.

“Similarly, we would welcome their participation in our Annual Giving Campaign, which will continue until June 30, 2017.”

Flook said that this year’s campaign concentration will be “the provision of Chromebooks for use by middle and high school students of the school.”

Donations can be sent to MSDF, P.O. Box 636, Frederick, MD 21705. Donations can also be submitted via PayPal (details available at MSD-Foundation.org).

Other opportunities for volunteering at or donating to the school include joining the MSD board, which meets five times a year (for more information, contact Flook at sarah@msd-foundation.org or 301-712-8921).

mklickstein@midatlanticmedia.com

Bmore Gives More

Screenshot of The Associated’s #GivingTuesday page

Screenshot of The Associated’s #GivingTuesday page

The first year that The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore took part in #GivingTuesday, the organization raised more than $1 million, gaining notoriety as the most charitable nonprofit in the United States to take part in the event.

The second year that #GivingTuesday was celebrated, The Associated joined forces with other local nonprofits to earn Baltimore the title as the most giving city in the country. The philanthropic event still continues to grow, significantly contributing to Maryland being named the nation’s most giving state in 2014.

Initially established by New York’s 92nd St. Y and the United Nations Foundation, #GivingTuesday is “national day to enlighten people and put in people’s minds the beauty of giving,” said Linda Hurwitz, chair of The Associated’s board.

The local effort began with a catchy call to arms, Bmore Gives More. Falling on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, the idea is to embrace the spirit of holiday giving and channel the gift-getting flurry of Black Friday and Cyber Monday into a humanitarian effort.

“We are all thinking about buying gifts, and it is an opportunity to give back to the community and local organizations,” said Hurwitz. “Each of us represent all citizens of Baltimore, all residents of Maryland. It is not just about the giving of money, it is about the giving spirit.”

The primary local philanthropy taking place on #GivingTuesday is the phone- a-thon in which volunteers will call members of the community and raise money to provide “food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, protection for the vulnerable, a positive Jewish identity,” according to The Associated’s donation page.

Both The Associated in Baltimore and the Jewish Federation of Howard County will be running phone-a-thons. For the first time this year, Howard County will also have an online fundraising campaign page. The website will reflect online and phone donations in real time.

“#GivingTuesday is primarily fueled by social media,” said Hanni Werner, marketing and communications associate for the Jewish Federation of Howard County. “Getting people more involved in social media is one of our huge goals. We want to be able to have our constituents share our media to expand our reach.”

The hope is that if members of the community share the event with their friends, it will add “a name and face to the campaign,” Werner explained.

“We are asking people to do three things,” she said. “First, if they want to help, volunteer making calls. Second is to donate online. And third, share the event on social media to help get word out about the event.”

Funds raised through the phone-a-thons will be donated to both local and international humanitarian causes, many of which support Israel and emphasize #GivingTuesday’s mission: “It’s all about building a Jewish future and supporting those in need within our communities,” Werner said.

For members of the community who want to help get involved, both The Associated and the Jewish Federation of Howard County need volunteers to answer phones throughout the day as well as post about #GivingTuesday and share the event and donation pages with friends.

“The phone-a-thon is indicative of the work The Associated does,” said Hurwitz. “We are cutting edge, involved in the community and have donors and trustees who know the important work that we are doing and want to contribute to something with real value and do it with Jewish ethics.”

“Everyone deserves dignity and basic needs,” she added. “Caring for the less fortunate is just who we are. We understand that people want to put their money where their hearts are. This is just one more opportunity for one Jew to help another.”

For more information on the #GivingTuesday campaigns, visit bit.ly/2fjn20F and bit.ly/2f0pptP.

dnozick@midatlanticmedia.com