Elks Camp Moore, a camp for kids with special needs, is located in Northwestern, New Jersey in the heart of the Ramapo Mountains. Our daughter, Danielle, who has autism has attended this camp for one week each of the last five summers. Some people refer to Camp Moore as “The Miracle on The Mountain.”
The Elks Organization had a vision that there needed to be a camp for children with special needs. The primary goal of the camp is to further develop the recreational and social skills of the child in a relaxing and accepting atmosphere. The cost of attending the camp is paid for by the Elks Organization for hundreds of children every summer. For parents of children with special needs, this camp is a well-needed respite. The demands of caring for a child with special needs, whether developmental, medical or both, can be overwhelming and exhausting at times.
Danielle’s first trip to Elks Camp Moore was when she was 13. Looking back now, we wished we had taken this opportunity when she was a few years younger. We were afraid to leave her at a camp because of her inability to speak and because of her high need for supervision to maintain her safety. One hot summer day we reached our limit with autism when Danielle left water running in the sink, causing a major leak through the ceiling with water damage and a huge mess! We decided it was time to give the camp a try since we were truly in need of a break.
We were so nervous leaving her that first year, but the camp’s staff quickly put us at ease. Each camper is given a one-to-one counselor. There is a nurse on site and they are equipped to handle children with very complicated medical and behavioral needs. The camp itself is beautiful, set in the mountains with a swimming pool. Swimming is one of Danielle’s favorite things to do. After we dropped Danielle off the first time, we took a trip into New York City. We got to be in the audience of a live TV show, something that would be difficult to do because of the challenge of finding child care for Danielle. Still, we were unsure how Danielle would do so we didn’t travel far away. We were constantly checking our cell phone to see if the camp had called. When we picked her up she was smiling and well cared for. Each year that Danielle went to camp, we did some fun and adventurous things but we never traveled too far from home and from the camp area.
This year we felt confident enough to travel to Niagara Falls with our other three children. Again, we were nervous being so far away from Danielle’s camp and out of the country in Canada, but we acted on faith and went anyway. This allowed us to spend a memorable time with our kids and we got to do some really cool things.
Although we would have loved to have Danielle with us, our choice of activities would have certainty been more limited. We went on a boat ride to the foot of the Horseshoe Falls (without constantly worrying that Danielle would go over the side of the boat), saw tremendous views, got very wet and had an incredible time. We also went behind the Falls, up to high observation decks, and climbed along the rocky river banks.
Getting away from your daily routine and having time away can be rejuvenating, especially when you are a parent or a caregiver. Jesus in the Gospels often sought out opportunities for solitude far from the crowds. As a Special Needs Family, we understand this need all too well. We felt recharged and renewed this week. It is certainly OK to have a break on occasion.
Thank you, Elks Camp Moore, for your excellent care of our Danielle. When we picked her up from camp, she was smiling and so were we.
Copyright 2016 David and Mercedes Rizzo.
All photos copyright 2016 David and Mercedes Rizzo. All rights reserved.