This past summer marks the seventh year since Camp Felix, the only overnight summer camp in the New York City area operated by a child welfare agency, opened its doors. Located in Putnam Valley, up in the Hudson Highlands, Camp Felix has served more than 650 kids (ages 8-15) to date.
Along with The Felix Organization/Adoptees for Children, The New York Foundling originally created the camp specifically to give children in the foster care system and others from low-income families a fun, safe, and memorable summer camp experience at no cost to their caregivers. For most of these kids, hearing crickets chirping at night or smelling an honest-to-goodness campfire are entirely new experiences they may never have had otherwise.
In addition to all the familiar camp activities—arts and crafts, all kinds of sports and performing arts—Camp Felix also conducts programs that promote teamwork, build character, and foster leadership skills. Towards the end of their stay, campers perform in a talent show alongside Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, the legendary hip-hop star from the groundbreaking music group, Run-DMC, who—with renowned casting director Sheila Jaffe—co-founded The Felix Organization/Adoptees for Children.
Children in the foster care system benefit enormously from consistency and familiarity. The Camp Felix campers are all Foundling kids, and many of them attend our charter school, Haven Academy. A number of the camp’s counselors and staff work at Haven Academy, as well. But even if kids start Camp Felix not knowing anyone else there, many of them walk away from the experience with friendships and bonds that last from summer to summer and grow throughout the year. This year, for the first time, not only did we have two former campers working as Camp Felix employees (one in food services and one as a counselor), but we had 12 current campers serving as counselors-in-training, as well.
Without Camp Felix, many of these kids would never have the chance to attend an overnight summer camp, especially one where they’re surrounded by peers who come from similar upbringings and by counselors who have received intensive training on the issues these kids face. Many of our campers return year after year, and it’s more than heartening to see how they’ve matured and grown, serving as role models to their younger peers. I already can’t wait for next summer—and for all the summers after that.