Dinner of Champions raises funds for special-needs campers

Special-needs campers play at Camp JCC, run by the JCCGW. Courtesy JCCGW
Special-needs campers play at Camp JCC, run by the JCCGW.
Courtesy JCCGW

The Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington will host its 22nd annual Dinner of Champions, raising funds for its Camp JCC special-needs and inclusion programs on Nov. 23. In addition to raising awareness and money for the program, new members of the sports hall of fame and philanthropists will be honored.

“The dinner really raises awareness of Camp JCC’s inclusion program,” said Arthur Polott, one of the co-chairs of the event. “The more people we can touch, the better.”

At the JCCGW, children with special needs are welcomed and provided for, with special equipment and inclusion counselors who work one-on-one with the campers.
For Heather Sachs, another co-chair, the camp has been of direct benefit for her and her own special needs daughter, which is one reason she and her husband got involved in the organization.

“After her first summer it was clear it was the only place for her. She was valued, not looked down upon,” Sachs said. “The JCC put those supports in place for her.”
The reason fundraising for the program is so essential she said, is because unlike many other camps with special-needs programs, the JCC doesn’t charge extra for the extra services and equipment needed. That cost is often three times as much as it is for campers without special needs.


“Getting equal access is so important,” she said. “They accommodate you and say ‘We want all of your kids to come.’ ”

Polott said his children benefited from being around children with special needs, and that he has been impressed with how they have changed because of it.
“They’re just better people for it,” he said.

The camp staff generally find the experience valuable, too, even changing their college majors sometimes in light of the experience.

“What resonates with me is that not only parents and kids are affected but also the camp counselors,” Polott said, adding that they are usually eager to return to the camp the next summer. “The retention rate is phenomenal,” he said.

Last year, more than 400 people attended the dinner, which this year will be hosted by Chris Gordon from NBC4 Washington. Along with the sports hall of fame inductees, seven local high school students will receive the Hyman M. & Phillip D. Perlo High School Athlete Award and Somerset Mayor Jeffrey Slavin will be presented with the Irene and Abe Pollin Humanitarian Award.

The camp’s popularity consistently exceeds the resources available for it, as it welcomes anyone, Jewish or not. There is always a waiting list of interested families.

“Perhaps some year there won’t be a waiting list,” Sachs said.

To learn more about Dinner of Champions or to buy tickets, go to jccgw.org/event/dinner-of-champions.

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