Camp Neeka: The Therapeutic Day Camp

It’s time for summer camp! Options abound for school-age youngsters with park district offerings, day camps and vacation specialty programs noted for their focus on sports, arts, or even cooking.

Happily, for kids with specific social, emotional or behavioral needs, there’s a warm and welcoming place, too.

Camp Neeka of The Josselyn Center (TJC) in Northfield is specifically suited to physically healthy youngsters who can benefit from a little extra guidance and attention. Established in 2008, the six-week camp welcomes kids ages 8-12 from around the North Shore and Chicago.

Glenview resident Chris Lantry found that Camp Neeka was an ideal alternative to traditional day camps for his daughter Emma.

“At Camp Neeka, the counselors are in tune with the kids’ issues,” he said. “We tried the big camps but they’re not equipped to handle social issues and Emma was just too stressed, she didn’t enjoy it.”

According to Gary Smith, president of The Josselyn Center, Camp Neeka was created in response to a void of options for these special kids.

“Our community surveys showed that there was no therapeutic summer camp in the north suburbs,” Smith explained. “There was no place for kids who wouldn’t fit in at a typical camp.”

Neeka campers tend to struggle with shyness, respecting others’ personal space, self-esteem, and team-building, critical life skills that sometimes require guidance to acquire.

Mariann Smith
, a clinician who serves a number of key roles at TJC and Camp Neeka, infuses the program with fun activities – including theater outings, horseback riding and swimming — that provide growth opportunities.

“Our campers don’t know that they’re learning,” Smith notes. “We have weekly themes, field trips, art projects, just like at conventional camps, but our focus is mostly building social skills.”

Mary Regula of Chicago is sending her son John for his third summer at Camp Neeka.

“The support system and therapies they have in place couldn’t be found anywhere else,” she said. “It’s been a perfect place for him; he’s really thriving. And we as parents really appreciate it.”

Veteran Camp Neeka clinician Nicole Perelgut credits the camp’s 1:3 ratio of counselors to campers for its success.

“One parent told me that when she dropped her son off at camp, it was the first time she saw other children greet him; at school, his peers never greeted him,” Perelgut recalled.

Openings remain for summer 2011. Call The Josselyn Center at 847-441-5600.