Can beads, glitter and markers make a difference? Thirteen-year-old Jennifer Caplan believes that the art at B’nai B’rith’s Kehila program is one wonderful way children with special needs can express themselves.
When Jennifer sat down with her parents to decide on a community service project for her bat mitzvah on Dec. 29 at Congregation Neveh Shalom, she was not sure where to start. “After throwing around many different ideas, I always came back to BB Camp,” said Jennifer.
Since she was 8 years old, Jennifer’s favorite summer activity has been going to BB Camp on the Oregon coast. When Jennifer began to research what she had heard about the Kehila program at BB Camp and the impact of art therapy on special needs children, she knew it was the perfect project for her. Jennifer’s mom, Michelle Caplan, explained that nothing had really excited Jennifer until the Kehila program idea came up.
“Community service projects are incredibly important, as it gives the kids who are about to become a young Jewish adult an opportunity to make an impact on their community in a very special way,” says Caplan. BB Camp Executive Director Michelle Koplan has known Jennifer since she was a day old and was thrilled to hear what she chose as her mitzvah project. “Our goal for Kehila is to give children with special needs the opportunity to experience Jewish camping, find meaning in Jewish life and make connections with other children,” says Koplan.
Currently, Kehila is the only Jewish camp in the Pacific Northwest that offers a program geared specifically for children with special needs.
Koplan explains that Jennifer’s project to collect arts and crafts supplies for Kehila campers is incredibly impactful. “Many children with special needs utilize art as a way to express their feelings that they otherwise can’t express through language or writing. Art becomes an outlet in so many different ways and allows children with special needs to release energy in a creative context and express themselves,” says Koplan.
Once Jennifer decided to help gather supplies for Kehila campers, she wrote an open letter to the community in the summer, asking for art supplies. She wrote, “The bat mitzvah is a big milestone that represents me becoming a young Jewish adult. As part of these responsi- bilities, I want to begin to make a difference in my community and have a positive impact on others.” Jennifer was able to collect more than $1,500 worth of art supplies. She displayed the donated glue, finger paint, friendship bracelet string, markers, beads, construction paper and brushes in colorful center- pieces at her bat mitzvah luncheon. She is happy that the supplies will be put to good use this summer. “BB Camp means a lot to me and I’m so glad I was able to do something for the camp that has given me so much already,” says Jennifer.
Koplan says Jennifer’s commitment is inspiring: “I’m so proud of her. As an agency, we work hard to assist our campers in learning leadership skills, passion for their Jewish identity and tikkun olam (repairing the world). We can’t hope for better citizens than the model Jennifer has portrayed in her mitzvah project.”
Vanessa Van Edwards is a freelance writer and speaker based in Portland.