Meet Julie Feldman: Assistant Director at Camp Firefly, Lake Delton, WI
Shares Her Love For: The campers of Camp Firefly and Next Step
Spotlight on Her Commitment to: Support the growth of her campers
At The Sunshine Method, we are forever inspired by individuals who are doing their part to make our communities better, stronger, and sunnier places! Today we spotlight one such individual–Julie Feldman, Assistant Director at Camp Firefly. Camp Firefly is an overnight camp (in partnership with JCC’s of Chicago) for children and teens who have been diagnosed with social disorders. Julie has been on their staff for eight years–occupying many leadership roles and dedicating her love and diligence to the young people of Firefly, ensuring that their time at camp is filled to the brim with friendship and fun!
Check out our interview with Julie to learn more about the amazing work going on at Camp Firefly (and its graduate program, Next Step), the necessity of programming for children and teens with special needs, and what everyone should know about the campers at Camp Firefly!
Sunshine: Can you tell us a little about Camp Firefly and your role there?
Julie: I am the Assistant Director of Camp Firefly, an overnight camp at Camp Chi in Lake Delton, Wisconsin for children and teens with autism and other social disorders. Camp Firefly offers a typical camp experience, with accommodations and support for children with social, emotional, and sensory needs. Once campers graduate from Firefly at age 16, they may be invited to apply for Next Step, which provides vocational placements throughout camp, as well as a focus on independent living skills such as budgeting and self-advocacy.
Sunshine: How did you get involved with Camp Firefly? [What drew you to this sort of work?]
Julie: I grew up attending Camp Chi, and discovered Camp Firefly after graduating from college. I was working towards earning my masters in social work, and became a counselor at Firefly in order to gain experience with this population and return to the place I grew up! I fell in love with the camp instantly, and have had many roles including Unit Head, Camper Care Coordinator, and Assistant Director.
Sunshine: [Spaces dedicated to serving the needs of neurodiverse young people are growing, but are still few and far between.] What makes a camp like Camp Firefly so important, and so necessary?
Julie: Camp Firefly is important because it allows our campers to experience something most of them wouldn’t be able to anywhere else. From a daily social skills group and a low staff to camper ratio, to opportunities for independence and confidence building, Camp Firefly offers the social and emotional support that our campers need! Camp Firefly also provides parents with the experience of being away from their children, and children being away from home.
Sunshine: [Camp Firefly sounds like it’s fulfilling an important need in the community!] What is the most rewarding aspect of the work you do? The most challenging?
Julie: The most challenging part of the job would be doing this important work away from home. The exhaustion wears on staff members and the director team prioritizes staff well- being and morale. The most rewarding part of my job at Firefly is experiencing the growth and maturity of the campers from year to year. Some of my first campers from 2010 are currently towering over me and applying for transition and degree programs! It never ceases to surprise me.
Sunshine: [You’ve been on the Firefly staff for 8 years–you must know the campers there so well!] What is one thing everyone should know about the young people at Camp Firefly?
Julie: Every camper is different from the next. Our campers are all resilient young people who come to camp to experience success and friendship in a new environment, but they all show up with different strengths, goals, and talents!
(Disclaimer: The interview has been edited for style and brevity.)