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SEED Campers prepare to start their walk-a-thon to benefit chronically ill children.

Amy Kaufman

Little campers raise big money for ill kids

By AMY R. KAUFMAN, Special to the Jewish Review

article created on: 2011-09-01T00:00:00

Little campers showed they could raise big money on Aug. 8, when 20 children from the Portland Kollel’s Camp SEED raised $2,000 in a “walk-a-thon” to benefit chronically ill children, according to Esther Fischer, camp director.

The youngest participants were only 5, said Fischer, but they already understood what a fun-filled Jewish camp experience like their own could mean to a child suffering from a life-threatening or debilitating illness.

Fischer said the funds benefit Chai Lifeline, an international organization that annually enables 400 children to revel in exciting activities all summer at
medically supervised Camp Simcha in New York, free of charge.

“I was amazed to see how excited the children were to raise money for this cause,” said Fischer. Twenty children signed up for the walk-a-thon, including three of her own, she said.

Fischer said the children learned about the project in the Camp SEED classroom by watching a video produced by Chai Lifeline. Then, under parental supervision, each child individually contacted friends, neighbors and family to enlist sponsors, who donated from 10 cents to $5 per lap.

Before the event, Nike employee and hockey coach Jodi Berris spoke to the campers and explained to them the importance of eating healthy, drinking water and not starting off too fast, said Fischer.

“The walk-a-thon was a perfect match for Camp SEED,” said Fischer. “The camp’s mission is to mix sports and fun activities with Jewish learning and moral messages. The counselors, who are graduates of girls’ Torah high schools and colleges, come from all over the United States. This is the first time we did the walk-a-thon, and we look forward to opening it up to the wider Jewish community in the future.”

The SEED campers’ walk-a-thon will help send children to Camp Simcha for “the most magical summer you could possibly imagine,” according to Ruti Berger, a Camp SEED counselor who has worked at Camp Simcha for three years.

She explained, “The camp has two sections. Camp Simcha is for children with cancer who have been in remission for up to five years. Camp Simcha Special is for children with debilitating conditions such as Crohn’s disease, cerebral palsy, lupus, and spina bifida.”

“If you ask any child, they wait all year to go to Camp Simcha,” said Camp SEED Counselor Shani Besser, who also worked at Camp Simcha. “The experience rejuvenates them and takes them to a higher place where anything can be possible for them.”

Six-year-old Ruth Zeidman showed her understanding of Jewish values when asked why she had chosen to participate in the walk-a-thon.

“Because I do tzedakah,” she said. Like the other participants, she also demonstrated an appreciation for the art of fund-raising.

She said she explained to prospective donors, “We give money to kids who don’t have money. The kids have a lot of fun and it’s one of the best times for them.”

Nine-year-old Rayna Davis told Jewish Review, “This is helping raise money for cancer and really bad illnesses. I have a lot of neighbors who like giving. I went to their houses.”

She said she believes it is important for sick children “to see that other people actually care about them and want to help them.”

The Kollel’s Rabbi Binyamin Paige said he was impressed that his son Chaim Zev “called his bubbe and zayde, neighbors and friends. I wouldn’t have done that when I was a kid.”

Fischer said each of the participants partnered with another child during the walk.

“The program not only helps children understand selflessness, it teaches about exercise, being healthy, reaching goals, and partnering with a friend,” she said. “It’s not about competition, it’s about reaching goals and helping a worthy cause.”

Camp SEED, which welcomes children of all affiliations, runs summer and winter day camps for local Jewish boys and girls ages 3 to 11. The next camp session is set for Dec. 26-30.

Chai Lifeline, founded in 1987, provides support to young patients and their families “through the child’s illness, recovery, and beyond,” according to the organization’s website. Through Camp Simcha, it seeks “to restore the light of childhood to children whose innocence ended when life-threatening or lifelong illness was diagnosed.”

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