Rolling through summer

The House of Wheels offered summertime fun for children and teens with disabilities.

Campers have plenty of physical activity, including rappelling, diving, canoeing and horseback riding. (photo credit: COURTESY BEIT HAGALGALIM)
Campers have plenty of physical activity, including rappelling, diving, canoeing and horseback riding.
Summer vacation is a challenging time for parents, who often have to put together a hodge-podge of day camps, activities and babysitters for their kids while they’re at work. If a child is physically disabled, finding a good camp program that is appropriate for the child’s needs is an even greater challenge.
And when there is a war going on, the challenge may seem insurmountable.
Children and youth with physical disabilities cannot react to air-raid sirens and reach shelters in the allotted time, and that situation could expose them to physical harm and emotional trauma. This summer, it was more important than ever to provide children with disabilities with a fun way to enjoy their vacation and offer a distraction from the stress and anxiety of the current state of affairs.
Beit Hagalgalim, The House of Wheels, a nonprofit organization that offers programs for physically disabled children and teens throughout the year, also operates summer camps in several localities in Israel.
The five- or six-day camps are filled with action and activity. In response to Operation Protective Edge, Beit Hagalgalim’s summer camps began earlier than planned and added extra vacation days.
Beit Hagalgalim provides an array of services to children and young adults with impaired mobility due to cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and other debilitating medical conditions. The organization was founded in 1979 by the late Miriam Schwarcz, who was a counselor at the Tkuma School in Tel Aviv and organized extracurricular programs for the physically disabled children in the school. In the past 35 years, Beit Hagalgalim has grown to include five branches – in Herzliya, Moshav Even Sapir near Jerusalem, Bustan Hagalil in the North, Kibbutz Urim in the South and Kibbutz Kramim in the Negev for the Beduin population. A sixth branch is being planned.
Today, between 75 and 90 children and youth and up to 30 young adults participate in the activities of each branch. Altogether in the five branches there are approximately 450 participants in the children’s division, 120 young adults and 600 volunteers. In all, close to 1,200 people. Beit Hagalgalim has only 15 paid workers; therefore, only a small part of the budget is used for management expenses.
For the children and youth of Beit Hagalgalim, the summer camps are the highlight of the year. Not even a war can keep the participants away from their group’s day camp. This summer, despite logistical changes to accommodate the security situation, 24 summer camps took place for participants aged eight to 18.
Every year, the location of each camp and the programs are different. In addition to trips to amusement parks, nature sites and movies, the campers have plenty of physical activity and experience in rappelling, diving, canoeing and horseback riding.
They learn camping skills and do volunteer work such as helping refugees or picking fruit in the Golan. Each camp is planned and orchestrated with a great deal of thought and preparation to make it as enjoyable and challenging as possible.
This year, Beit Hagalgalim operated emergency summer camps for disabled children and youth, in which members of the southern and Jerusalem branches of the organization were relocated to central Israel for additional camp days. The emergency program was extremely important because it enabled these young people to leave their homes and relax in a safe place.
A special aspect of Beit Hagalgalim’s programming is that the children themselves are actively involved in planning and making the decisions about their activities in the summer camps and all year round.
The older groups are completely responsible for their own day-to-day plan and work side by side with the volunteer counselors. Even the youngest kids, the eight- to 10-year-olds, get involved in the decisionmaking.
For children with disabilities, this is especially meaningful, as society often treats them as being incapable of taking action. Beit Hagalgalim shows them otherwise. In this way, the kids not only make friends and have a good time but also develop valuable leadership skills.
Chen, a vivacious 18-year-old, has completed 11th grade at Ulpanat Gila in Ramat Beit Shemesh. She has been an enthusiastic participant in Beit Hagalgalim’s programs since she was eight. Although Chen has cerebral palsy and needs a motorized wheelchair to get around, that has not stopped her from doing anything she wants to do. This year, she spent a lot of her time and energy planning the schedule for the Jerusalem branch’s older group.
“She is always on the phone,” says her mother, Osnat. “She is involved with everything, including ordering the buses and working out the budget. It is through her involvement with Beit Hagalgalim that Chen has developed her confidence, her talents and her desire to contribute to society.”
Chen doesn’t have much time to talk because she is busy making last-minute arrangements for her group’s camp. When asked what Beit Hagalgalim means to her, she answers, “I have a lot of good friends at my ulpana, but they think I can’t do things for myself, and I always have to prove to them that I can. At Beit Hagalgalim, I don’t have to prove myself to anyone. I feel freer because I am among equals.”
For the children and youth at Beit Hagalgalim, being with friends and having a great time is the best possible antidote to the stress of the past month.
For more information about Beit Hagalgalim, visit