By Maggie Nash, MSW, MEd
July 28, 2022

Camp is an experience many of us can share – sleep away camp, sports camp, or your neighborhood park district camp. I think back on my own experience, and I remember the smell of the grass outside while playing tag, the gossip of who was your favorite counselor, and the thrill of meeting new people and creating friendships that would form that special “summer camp bond.” Every child deserves this experience. Josselyn’s Camp Neeka does exactly this.

During July, Camp Neeka creates a safe space for children ages 8-12, who may require a little more support and structure than your typical camp experience. Many of our campers attend Camp Neeka to work through their own mental health challenges, ranging from symptoms like anxiety, depression, trauma, ADHD, and autism. For four years, I have worked at Camp Neeka. Each year we build a culture of togetherness and understanding that allows our campers to thrive during our camp hours.

This summer we had a record number of campers – 45 to be exact – many of which were already clients of Josselyn, and many of whom are soon to be clients due to their positive experience at camp. Each day we follow a predictable schedule which helps our campers adapt more easily. We do check-ins, group therapy, movement therapy and our campers favorite, art therapy! It is amazing how therapeutic play can be when planned out intentionally and purposefully – even dodgeball!

Additionally, each week, our campers go on several field trips and explore new places and ways to apply the skills they are learning. This month we’ve experienced an organic garden excursion, therapeutic horseback riding, an intensive art project and 6 – yes 6 – waterparks!!

While the curriculum, grounded in therapeutic activities and games, is top-notch… the real success of Camp Neeka is our staff. The team work tirelessly to support our campers and are dedicated to building lasting, loving relationships. Camp is staffed by Josselyn clinicians and counselors who have professional experience in fields, such as education, psychology, and social work.

Every day at Camp Neeka, you hear counselors checking in with campers, laughing with each other and asking kids to “voice what they need” or “tell me how you are feeling from 1 to 5.”  You also hear staff say “Camp is not long enough,” or “This is the best part of my summer!” The care and love Camp Neeka staff have for our campers is palpable. Our counselors understand the importance of finding a space where you truly feel you belong and, because of this, return each summer.

Camp Neeka is a special place. Our camper’s growth over the month and from year to year, is remarkable. The stories that could be shared are innumerable, but one from this summer sticks out to me the most. Our camper started camp very shy, closed off and had trouble connecting with her counselors, as many of our campers do. As the summer progressed, we watched her slowly open up, be eager to learn, and practice coping skills for her “big feelings” (camp lingo) and now states that camp is, “Her favorite place on this planet!” and is already making plans to attend next year.

With the last day of Camp Neeka fast approaching, it brings an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and sadness. Just like the typical camp experience the last day is filled with many emotions. You will find our campers and counselors writing notes to each other, swapping favorite stories, and shedding a few tears as we reflect on a summer well spent and the bonds that will carry us through until next year.

Camp Neeka embodies Josselyn’s vision of Mental health for all. We are making a difference in the lives of our young people, their families, our staff, and our community. I’m so honored to be a part of this amazing experience and am dedicated to continuing to build communities of belonging for whomever may be searching for one.

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