The Carrithers Family
Summertime should overflow with carefree fun in the sun, but for Natalie Carrithers, it could have brought a dark cloud. “I’d dread summer if I didn’t have a camp program where my daughter could go,” Natalie admits, referring to the challenges of finding appropriate activities for her then-toddler daughter Luci (now 8), who was born with Trisomy 21, a genetic disorder known as Down syndrome. “Fortunately, I never had to get to that point because I found Camp Marie Benator with its Inclusion Program at the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta.” And bright, sunny days followed.
While the Carrithers family is not Jewish, Natalie was thrilled to find the MJCCA is welcoming to all – and alleviated so many roadblocks she faced in previous searches for summer programming: Luci’s medical needs were addressed, the staff-to-camper ratios were small enough that a facilitator wasn’t necessary, Luci could participate fully, staff frequently communicated – and both Luci and her younger sister, Audrey, now 6, could attend camp together.
The MJCCA’s approach to inclusion enabled the Carrithers siblings to revel in experiences together at MJCCA Day Camps that wouldn’t necessarily occur elsewhere, from participating in color war team competitions and swimming to riding the bus and celebrating Shabbat. A drama camp was particularly special, as the girls rehearsed for The Little Mermaid, Jr. “It was the cutest thing ever,” Natalie beams. “They came home singing and dancing to all the songs together – and still do!”
Natalie underscores how invaluable it has been that Luci gets to participate in everything, including rock-wall climbing at Camp Isidore Alterman. “I’m glad she gets the opportunity to do cool things at camp. It wouldn’t be fair if one sister got to and the other did not. It’s important for Audrey to see her sister belongs in the same community she does. I am so glad they have shared experiences away from me and my husband and special memories as sisters.”
“The Inclusion Program at the MJCCA is truly unique,” Natalie declares. “Sarah Koenig, the program’s director, knows both of my girls but makes sure things go well for Luci and that she’s well cared for away from home. I really hope they continue their Inclusion Program so other families can experience what we have. We are very lucky this is within our reach.”
Luci has been given the opportunity to participate in every activity regardless of her ability.Natalie Carrithers