Launching a meaningful life for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities

Firefly Camp image
Outdoor activities are among the adventures campers enjoy at Camp Firefly.

Yay…Summertime!  That thought might not be top of mind for many as temperatures dip below freezing, but for parents, December is the time to start planning for summer camp.  For parents of children with emotional and social disorders, options and resources for an exciting summer full of fun and friends may be limited.  Camp Firefly offers the perfect solution.

A partnership of Jewish Child & Family Services (JCFS) and JCC Camp Chi, Camp Firefly provides an overnight summer camp experience to boys and girls, ages 9-16, who have been diagnosed with social disorders such as Social Anxiety, OCD, PDD, Asperger's Syndrome, Non-Verbal Learning Disorder, and High Functioning Autism.  Firefly Day Camp, for ages 7 to 12, takes place at JCC's "Z" Frank Apachi Day Camp in Lake Zurich, and offers a chance for younger children to become more familiar with the camp experience.

Located near the Wisconsin Dells, Camp Firefly was developed to provide a social, fun, typical camp experience, complete with swimming lessons, arts and crafts, hiking, s'mores and more, for children who need more support and assistance in social situations, and who may have difficulty attending a typical camp.  

"It was the first time my child had the opportunity to experience camp in a safe and comfortable environment," said one parent.  "He had a great time and became more self-confident and independent and made friends that he keeps in touch with year-round."

Planning for the Future:
The Supported Community Living Initiative

The independence and friendships fostered at Camp Firefly are important ongoing themes for many people who have a loved one with an intellectual/developmental disability (I/DD) who often wonder: "What will happen to them as they become an adult?" Where will they live? What will they do during the day? How will it all be paid for? And, what if something happens to me before we have plans in place? 

Jodi Newmark, whose son Danny is a now a young adult with a disability, is one of those people.  Recently appointed as director of the Supported Community Living Initiative (SCLI), Newmark, along with many other community members and parents, is looking to answer these questions, and to lead the Jewish community to respond to the needs of this population.  "Parents have the same dreams and aspirations for their children with disabilities as they have for any of their children: a full life in the community pursuing vocations and interests that give their life meaning and accessing social, recreational, cultural and spiritual experiences while building and sustaining relationships with family, friends and community," says Newmark.

SCLI is a grassroots movement of parents and professionals working together to make certain that when people with disabilities come of age, there are programs and services in place to help them transition to a meaningful adulthood. With support from JUF, JCFS, Keshet, Libenu, JCC and other agencies, one major component of this mission is the development of community-based homes and apartments.  SCLI also seeks to assure a full array of community based services that will also include day programming, job placement and other vocational services, transportation, social, recreational, and cultural programming and medical and therapeutic care.

Key to SCLI's vision becoming a reality is connecting families that have received Community Integrated Living Arrangement (CILA) funding from the State of Illinois to one another to facilitate collaboration in designing long-term supports and services, using a best-practice, person-centered approach.  "We start with the individual, their families and caretakers, their needs and aspirations, and build programs and services from there," says Newmark. "Every person has the right to a full life."

As families work to build the vision for a sustainable future, they can also turn to JCFS as a Service Facilitation Agency for Home Based Waiver for guidance through the process of designing services to meet currents needs of loved ones with I/DD.  

For more information Camp Firefly, SCLI or Service Facilitation call 855-ASK-JCFS (855-275-5237), email or visit

Jewish Child & Family Services (JCFS) is a partner in serving our community supported by the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

Deanna Shoss is director of Marketing, Communications and Business Developmentfor Jewish Child & Family Services.

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