Blog  NFTY-MV: Camp Rainbow, More Than a Mitzvah Project

NFTY-MV: Camp Rainbow, More Than a Mitzvah Project

By Lilly Karsh-Lombardo, NFTY-MV Special Projects Coordinator

Camp Rainbow - LillyMother, father, aunt, uncle – that’s who you become as a Camp Rainbow counselor.  You are your camper’s rock.  For one week, your camper relies on you to be all these people – a camp counselor.  Camp Rainbow is a camp disconnected from the world for kids with cancer and blood-related diseases.

I came into camp knowing only this.  At orientation, they teach you everything you need to know to play any role for the week.  Still, nothing short of true parenthood could prepare a teenager to be responsible for the life of one child, night and day.

Counselors sit in the dining hall waiting for their names to be called out, waiting for their campers to arrive.  The butterflies swarming in your stomach are innumerable. The moment your name is called, the butterflies double in size.  You make eye contact with your camper and see their nervous youthful smile and say, “Welcome to Camp Rainbow! We are going to have the best time!”

In that moment you realize this camp is not about you; it’s not your job to ask about the medical issues, it’s your job to make sure he/she has the time of his/her life.  Camp offers the opportunity to escape the real world and just have fun.

My definition of fun is to enjoy the moment and to laugh carelessly, and the campers do exactly this at camp.  Every day consists of catching a fish and kissing it, splashing everyone at pool time, and choosing the best flavored snow cone.  You and your camper do not give one care in the world if you are embarrassing yourselves.  The campers do not get bored with the same game and they still have energy for more. This is where I figured out patience is of the utmost virtue.

After the thousandth time of hearing the same thing over and over from my camper, I hit my point of exhaustion and broke down. My friend, another counselor, saw my tiredness and frustration and gave me the cold-hearted truth: “It doesn’t matter what you want; you need to be here with Jeremy.”

Camp Rainbow is not about you.  Camp Rainbow is not about being educated on cancer and blood diseases.  Camp Rainbow is not about “finding yourself”.  Camp Rainbow is for the campers, and through them, I learned that there is so much more beyond me.  I learned to look at the bigger picture and realize the responsibilities I had to my camper.  By the end of camp, I knew my camper’s strengths and weaknesses, discovered the will these kids have to live a full life, and found a new home where I am always welcomed.  Working at Camp Rainbow is not only my passion; it’s my motivation to get through the other 51 weeks of the year.  Whether I am looking forward to new campers and friends or back at past memories, Camp Rainbow is a way of life for me. It is my rock.