Road to Rainbow has grown to hundreds | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Road to Rainbow has grown to hundreds

An effort to get kids from Milwaukee-area, historically underserved communities, into summer camp has grown from 20 kids to 400 over the past several years. 

The Road to Rainbow program served hundreds of children this past summer from historically underserved communities at the Albert & Ann Deshur JCC Rainbow Day Camp, a program of the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center. 

The Fredonia day camp serves kids, primarily for the North Shore, in a Jewish environment. It also serves the larger community, with help from donors and several local partner organizations. 

Partners include: 

  • All Hands Boat Works 
  • Hmong American Peace Academy 
  • Meta House 
  • Milwaukee Tennis Education Foundation 
  • New Beginnings Are Possible 
  • Project UJIMA 
  • Seeds of Health Elementary School 
  • Thoreau School  
  • United Community Center 

Lenny Kass, JCC Rainbow Day Camp director, recalled how it got started: “I was meeting with a donor, and the donor and I were talking about that there’s a lot of our community that would never get an opportunity to be able to be at a place like Rainbow Day Camp and use this phenomenal facility. We were talking and we decided, hey, why don’t we partner with an organization in Milwaukee, and bring them up to camp. So we partnered with United Community Center. And we took 20 children, brought them up to camp and gave them a free weekend camp; this donor paid for it. It was unbelievable.” 

From there, less than a decade ago, the number of children served has grown to hundreds.  

The goal of the program is to give children from different parts of the community an opportunity to experience things they never get a chance to do, Kass said. The program also offers an opportunity for kids who are medically challenged or with special needs, to attend the camp.

The program also exposes people from outside the Jewish community to Judaism, in part to help with the struggle against growing antisemitism. The idea is that it’s hard to be antisemitic if you’ve attended Jewish camp and gotten to know the Jewish people. 

“Camp offers kids a chance to feel like they belong and fosters teamwork and interpersonal skills,” said Shelby Elias, director of JCC Rainbow Day Camp. “It is our goal to ensure this rite of passage is available to more underserved children throughout Milwaukee. To accomplish this, we’ve established new and have grown existing partnerships with a record number of organizations to guarantee we can serve an ever-growing need in the community.”

Funding for the Road to Rainbow camp at JCC Rainbow Day Camp is provided through corporate, foundation and individual sponsorship.  New for JCC Rainbow Day Camp is the addition of a Universally Designed Challenge Course, a multi-apparatus course created for children of all abilities. The course features low-rope challenges and is completely wheelchair accessible. 

The program has also been expanded to teach swimming and water skills to children from historically underserved communities. 

“With drowning being the third leading cause of unintentional injury-related death among children 19 and under, our goal is to ultimately prevent water-related tragedies by teaching basic skills to protect yourself in the water,” Elias said.