What’s Happening at Ramah
Susan Tecktiel Creates First Camp for Autistic Children
by Shiela Steinman Wallace, Jewish Community Federation of Louisville
(The following article appears on the website of the Jewish Community Federation of Louisville.)
Like many Jewish summer camps, Camp Ramah Darom in Clayton, GA, provides an awesome Jewish experience for children in its service area. Campers come together and find a real Jewish community where they’re just like everyone else and it’s cool to be Jewish.
The camp has been in operation for nine years; and Rabbi Loren Sykes is its director. Seven years ago, Susan Tecktiel and her husband, Rabbi Bradley Tecktiel, began attending the camp, and four years ago, Rabbi Sykes recruited Susan to run a weeklong family camp program. The program, which enables parents and children to share some camp activities and provides some peer group experiences, was an immediate success.
One year, a family with several autistic children participated in the family camp, and Rabbi Sykes decided that he wanted to do something for the special needs population. He tapped Susan Tecktiel to help create the program.
“We began to do research,” Tecktiel said, “and found that there are no Jewish family camps specifically designed for families with children with autism.”
While there are many camps that offer programs for special needs children, autistic children “have such specific needs and require such specific care that no program exists for them,” she continued. “So we decided to put out some information about the camp, even before we had funding. The word spread so quickly that soon we had requests from all over the country, from South Africa and from Israel.”
Tecktiel and Rabbi Sykes found that families with autistic children often feel isolated in their communities, so “they were really thrilled to have this opportunity.”
The two directors set the date, August 24-28, and decided to limit Camp Yofi’s first year’s program to 20 families. The need is so great, Tecktiel reported that less than two weeks after announcing the camp, the program was completely full and there was a waiting list. “That’s just an example of the need across the country,” she said.