Dallas teacher gives advice on finding best summer destination
By Deb Silverthorn
Special to the TJP
Saturday night campouts, s’mores, bunkmate besties and what’s on the “other side of the lake” are all memories of summer sleep-away fun, be it a two- or fourweek or all-summer stay away. In Helene Abrams, area families can find the spirit and intuition to help their prospective campers and gap-year program participants make themost of their experiences. As a member of the Tips on Trips and Camps team, the only representative in the state of Texas, Abrams is one of 16 women — also teachers (nursery school, gifted, and special needs kids), camp directors and camp counselors, court reporters, analysts, paralegals, legislative assistants, lawyers, CPAs, graphic artists, bakers, athletic directors, tennis coaches, musicians, volunteers, civic activists, caterers and docents — who travel the country and beyond to find “the” perfect match for their clientele. With more than 140,000 families who have benefited from their advice, there’s nary a need that can’t be met. “Camp provides a positive opportunity for growth that should not be underestimated and it really is an integral part of a child’s education and social development,” said Abrams, who is also a preschool teacher at Temple Emanu-El, a position she previously held at Levine Academy. “Children learn to challenge themselves on levels that they have never explored as they are for the first time forced to leave their secure and restricted neighborhoods, to deal with campmates that may have different values or behaviors than they find acceptable, and they must learn to negotiate and resolve conflict. “Campers must learn to deal with stress in a socially acceptable manner, to include instead of exclude, and in essence they learn about a stronger sense of self. Camp, in almost every form, provides the background for this growth in a safe and controlled environment, and what more do parents want for their children?” Abrams, raised around the world as an Air Force child, never went to summer camp but indeed saw the world living as far away as Bermuda and Japan. Her incamp experience comes from working at Greene Family Camp, an opportunity that arose after picking up her son from his second summer at the camp. Speaking to the camp director, she expressed her desire—off-the-cuff kiddingly — to come to camp too. “Come on down, we’ll find you a place,” said the director who did, and there Abrams remained working in the camp office (allowing her kids their space and individual experiences) for the next 11 summers. Abrams’ camp recommendations trulymatcheach of her clients, ages 8 to 18, looking at traditional camps, internships, travel and gap-year options. For those looking for sports or artsrelated programs, they can be found. For those with culinary interests, an adventurous spirit, a desire for a Jewish connection, and those with academic, wilderness and technology programs — they are out there. “There are thousands of camps and we represent 500 of the best,” said Abrams, whose service is free to her clients, and for whom visiting 20 camps in a four-day jaunt is the norm. In addition to Abrams’ own visits, the team gathers each fall to exchange ideas and information, to have directors come in and share their programs, becoming more than a name —putting a face to the camp.
“There is a camp or program for almost every child and in my eight years doing this, I haven’t really been stumped to find the right fit.” “Helene was my son’s preschool teacher at Levine Academy and we reconnected three years ago when a friend knew I was looking for camps. She didn’t know Gregory’s ‘7-year-old self’ but she took the time to learn about him and help us connect to a great camp,” said Stacy Cushing, whose sons Drew and Gregory are among Abrams’ campers. Drew, 7, is set to attend his first summer at camp in Wisconsin while Gregory, 10, will return for a third year to one of nature’s havens in Maine. “She interviewed my husband Alex and me and our boys. She shared a number of videos and websites with us, and introduced us to the directors of a number of camps. We never would have known about anything outside the ‘Dallas circle’ of camps if not for her. While we’ll miss them both this year — and yes, they’re far away — we feel great about the choices we’ve made and we know it’ll be great.” In addition to camps, Abrams also has great experience at finding gap-year programs, an alternative to straight-to-college for many kids. “So many kids have no idea what they want to do, and there are many options in Israel, working in other countries, service programs, or sailing around the world,” said Abrams. “These experiences can help the child not only learn about the world, but also about themselves.” Abrams’ intuition is strong, as it was when the San Antonio native met her husband Harry while playing racquetball at the Aaron Family JCC. The two were engaged within six weeks and are the proud parents of Molly and Ryan. The family have been longtime members of Temple Shalom. Basis of her analysis Abrams, who interviews parents and children about what they want their summer to be, refers her clients around the country. Secular and Jewishoriented camps make her list. While she is unbiased, her heart beats a bit more warmly at the thought of what Shabbat at a Jewish camp, regardless of levels of observance, means to campers. “There’s something about ‘Shabbat whites,’ and the swaying around a Saturday night Havdalah service.” “I was very open about where to send our kids,” said Wendy Immerman, who alsomet Abrams while she was teaching at Levine Academy. She and husband David — looking for a camp with Jewish identity for their children Hank and Reagan — didn’t know where to start. “Success was reached and they’re going back for a second year.” According to a report from the Foundation for Jewish Camp, as adults those who attended Jewishoriented camps are 10 percent more likely to marry a Jewish partner, 30 percent more likely to donate to a Jewish charity, 45 percent more likely to attend synagogue on a monthly basis, 55 percent more likely to feel very emotionally attached to Israel. Get out the shopping list, get ready for the letters home (maybe) andpackup the bug spray, sleeping bag and satchels. Summer will be here before you know it — homework and tests over, sunsets and Sunday cinnamon rolls on the way. “Camp is not just a place to spend your summer. Other than choosing a college or life mate, camp is really one of the most profound decisions in a person’s life and the impact is everlasting,” said Abrams. “It’s a deep connection with others, becoming part of a supportive community and something you will hold in your heart forever.