Michigan camp for individuals with special needs perseveres through COVID-19 pandemic

Friendship Circle of Michigan hosts overnight camp

PINCKNEY, Mich. – People with special needs often feel isolated and alone. Coronavirus (COVID-19) has required many people to socially distance themselves, and that has only added to those feelings.

One Michigan nonprofit organization found a way to get both children and adults out and engaged with each other in a safe way.

Friendship Circle of Michigan has a goal of providing every individual with special needs the support, friendship and inclusion they deserve. The pandemic made things difficult this summer, but they decided to host an overnight camp and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

People could been seen canoeing at the Friendship Circle Overnight Camp at Northstar Reach in Pinckney.

“Camp is a place where everyone feels they can be at home and this is their place,” camp director Yarden Blumstein said.

Friendship Circle provides assistance and support to 3,000 individuals with special needs and their families. A doctor advised them that day camps would be out of the question this year, but overnight camp could work.

“Following guidance of a doctor and doing everything we can to be as safe as possible,” executive program director Bassie Shemtov said.

Camp organizers planned a four day, three night session for kids and adults. They’re practicing social distancing and wearing masks. All the while offering canoeing, kayaking, swimming, bonfires and art classes.

Alexa Morris was creating a flag for her cabin.

“I love friendship circle forever. It’s my first time at camp and I want to put friends hand prints on it, because it’s our first time and I made new friends,” Morris said.

Rabbi Yarden Blumstein said coronavirus is isolating a lot of families and the camp is offering them a respite.

Shemtov said these are unbelievably hard times for everyone, especially for those with special needs. She said it warms her heart to see campers and find joy and new friends.

Blumstein said not every family felt comfortable sending their loved ones to camps. In some cases, Friendship Circle came to them. They dropped off care packages and meals, they also offered a virtual camp.

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