Oceanside JCC expands LGBTQ+ youth summer camp


Friedberg JCC is expanding its camp for LGBTQ+ youth, their allies and children with LGBTQ+ parents. The day camp will now run for four weeks in summer 2019 and welcome campers ages 10 to 17.

Camp Ga’avah, which means “pride” in Hebrew, launched this year and is the only LGBTQ+ camp in the area. Nine campers, ages 12 to 16 from Long Island and Queens, attended the one-week program, which is held at Henry Kaufmann Campgrounds in Wheatley Heights and offers traditional summer camp activities like swim, sports, yoga, art and music. The camp also has LGBTQ+ adults visit to speak on relevant issues.

“At the end of the first day, we saw [the campers] loosen up and start being themselves,” said Stephanie Abrams, director of development at JCC. “Parents said they never saw their kids so happy and comfortable with themselves. This is why it’s worthwhile and why we want to reach more kids.”

After the success of the first camp, The Redwoods Group Foundation awarded the JCC with a $25,000 grant to expand the program. “What Camp Ga’avah has done is to create a space and an experience where LGBTQ kids can be accepted without having to worry about hiding any part of who they are is unequivocally wonderful and extremely brave for a youth-serving community organization,” said Robin Rennells, director of The Redwoods Group Foundation.

JCC aims to enroll 30 campers for Camp Ga’avah’s second year. The organization is working with Pride for Youth, Transgender Resource Center of Long Island, Pride Healing Center and LGBT Network to recruit campers.

The two big changes to the program —lengthening to four weeks and adding a younger age group — will help Camp Ga’avah to make a larger impact, directors said.

Ellen Diamond, project director at JCC, said they chose to expand to 10 and 11 year olds because “we’ve heard stories of children younger than 12 who have had a really difficult time in regular day camp. They were not allowed to be who they were and it was distressing. We had one younger visitor who came on last day [in summer 2018] and he said it was great to be in a camp with people like him.”

Diamond added that the camp offers gender-neutral bathrooms and optional swim time.

The 2019 Camp Ga’avah runs from July 29 to Aug. 23, 2019, in two separate two-week sessions. Children are eligible to sign up for one or both. The first is from July 29 to Aug. 9 and the second is from Aug. 12 to Aug. 23. Children and teens do not need to be Jewish to attend and will be grouped by age. To register, visit friedbergjcc.org/camps.