Noah Pawliger, founder and co-director, Camp Living Wonders
Camp Living Wonders is a summer program in the Blue Ridge Mountains for Jewish youths with developmental disorders. As program director at Camp Barney Medintz, Pawliger had tested his experiences as a teenager working with special needs children.
Complementing his background in recreational management is his wife Chanie’s background in special education and literacy.
The camp is designed to increase the social skills of the kids, who may have struggled to integrate into other communities. The camp also offers a staff-in-training program for Jewish teenagers, allowing them to work with older teens with special needs. The program prepares the teens for future camp counselor positions or work with children.
Living Wonders also offers a vocational work program for adults with special needs, who live and work alongside the rest of the camp’s staff.
The programming combines therapeutic experiences with practical lessons. His nature and farming program, for example, combines real-world lessons in farming and sustainability with the comforting tastes, textures, smells, sights and sounds of a garden.
While Living Wonders cannot admit every would-be camper, the Pawligers do their best to provide funding for families with financial needs.
The camp is based on the idea that every child should be accepted and reinforced by the community. When Pawliger worked with special needs youths as a teenager, he noticed a lack of inclusive and reinforcing programs.
In four years, the camp has grown from seven campers to almost 50.
“We look at their achievements and their struggles,” Pawliger said. “We look at micro-wins and celebrate them on a macro level, and I think because of that, every kid returns home with a tremendous amount of confidence and a desire to share their experiences and replicate what they learned with other people.”