A petting zoo, glow disco, theme park outing, spy mission, laser quest and parents’ candlelit dinner were just a handful of activities Camp Simcha families enjoyed on a few days respite from the stress of having a seriously ill child.
Some 150 family members attended the charity’s two three-day retreats in Oxford this month. With a doctor on call 24/7, all medical equipment and caring needs covered, and over 100 volunteers supporting the children, families were able to enjoy precious relaxation time together.
Single mum-of-three Gina Greenwood was on her sixth retreat. Her son Jake, 8, twin to Harry, and younger brother to Ella, 11, has short gut syndrome with life-threatening complications.
She said: “Jake’s condition is unpredictable. Earlier this year he collapsed and stopped breathing. While he thankfully came through it, it is that unpredictability which means he couldn’t go on outings or trips without me or a doctor present. Thanks to Camp Simcha retreat and programmes like their summer day scheme, Jake doesn’t have to miss out.”
Dr Michelle Jacobs, specialist in Paediatric Emergency Medicine, and a member of Camp Simcha’s medical panel, volunteers her time to be at the three-day retreat, to cover everyone’s medical needs.
“Dr Jacobs knows Jake – and all about his condition,” says Gina. “She has had to step in in the past when he has needed urgent medical attention at retreat. Knowing he is in safe hands, means he can have fun and I can have a break.
“Jake’s illness has also taken its toll on Harry who hasn’t really wanted to leave my side since Jake collapsed in March,” adds Gina. “He gets into a terrible state.
“I had almost got to breaking point when Camp Simcha sent in an art therapist for him. Even just a few sessions have made an amazing difference. When we got to retreat, he went off and I barely saw him for the three days.
“My kids don’t want to come home from retreats and they love the outings, but for me it is my Family Liaison Officer and the other support services which are the lifeline. From tutoring for Ella’s SATS when I had too much on my plate to work with her, to supporting me with travel to retreat because I suffer with panic attacks, what Camp Simcha offers is so responsive and so geared to each family’s needs.”
Camp Simcha chief executive Neville Goldschneider says: “At Camp Simcha our focus has always been supporting the whole family, particularly the siblings who are hugely impacted when a child is seriously ill. We know it is just as important that they are made to feel as special as the ill child. With our fantastic volunteers on hand at retreat we can really ensure each and every child gets individual attention so that parents can relax or seek counsel from our team, knowing all their children are having a wonderful time.”