A group of adventurers have raised over £80,000 for Camp Simcha by Conquering the Canyon.
The 21-strong team, age 21- 67, from London and Manchester, undertook the charity’s first overseas challenge – a four-day, 36-mile trek, descending 2,100 feet into the Grand Canyon, to help fund Camp Simcha’s work supporting families coping with serious childhood illness.
Amongst them were two volunteers who work closely with the children Camp Simcha supports, and a couple who were helped by the charity when their daughter was born with a life threatening heart condition nearly four years ago.
Anita and Benji Rietti’s daughter Batya defied the doctor’s predictions that she would probably not make it to full-term and, at most, be alive for a few minutes, giving her parents 15 precious months with her.
‘Camp Simcha kicked into action 3 days after she was born when Rachely Plancey (Camp Simcha founder) came to visit us at hospital,’ says Anita, 43, from Hendon. ‘From that moment Camp Simcha were always by our side.
‘Their team of incredible staff and tireless volunteers would stay with Batya in hospital, giving us time to run back home and tend to our other children, acting as ‘Big Brothers’ or ‘Sisters’ to her and to the others, be it to entertain them or be there with us at family retreat days, theatre trips and fun outings.
‘I look back and I marvel, how far as a family we have come and I know that it was only with Camp Simcha by our side that we came through it.
‘I remember one night, when we were stuck at GOSH hospital, and were not able to get back in time for kids’ supper, our Family Liaison Officer organised meals for us, but she thought about what each member of the family’s favourite was, so burgers for one from their favourite place, bagels for another…’
‘Camp Simcha brought a sense of calm to our otherwise beautiful, yet volatile journey; gently offering what we needed when we ourselves couldn’t even think of what that was. That is the simple reason why Benji and I wanted to do this challenge, to give something back to the charity that rekindled the light when it went out for us, to help ensure they can do the same for other families.’
Anita said the challenge was an amazing experience, surrounded by the ‘awe-inspiring’ natural beauty, but also one which she found incredibly tough physically.
On the last day, in the final long zigzag ascent out of the Canyon, Anita says the emotion of it all and the tiredness got the better of her.
‘I felt like I couldn’t go on but the image in my head of all the volunteers, Rachely, our Family Liaison Officer, Gila, our Camp Simcha Big Sister Talia, and the whole team that held our family and our life together 24/7, during our shaky two years whilst our daughter was alive and then afterwards. was the only reason I forced myself not to pass out and give up.
‘That – and the amazing group of people I was with, a few of whom literally pulled me along in that last mile and a half. We were all different ages and from different walks of life but, on that amazing trip, we bonded and supported each other and I feel I have made friends for life.’
Fellow trekker Simon Levine, from Israel, played a large in organizing the trip, particularly the route.
He says: ‘In Camp Simcha’s early days when I was living in Edgware they helped my family with respite support for my son and for years I have looked for an opportunity to give something back, so I was thrilled to not only to take part in the trek, but also help set up the Conquer the Canyon trip.
‘For me it was a real high to be part of it and also see people enjoying the experiences, conquering their fears and overcoming challenges. We were camping next to Havasu Falls for the trip, with a grueling ten-mile hike up to it and it was wonderful to see peoples’ faces light up as they turned the corner to reach that amazing sight.’
Camp Simcha volunteer Brocha Issler, 26, from Salford, Manchester, said that whilst the challenge was much harder than she had anticipated, the sense of achievement for completing it and raising so much has been fantastic.
‘I’m a Big Sister for Camp Simcha and in that role I have been supporting the same child for 7 years,’ says Brocha. ‘I see the how life-changing the charity’s help is first hand so knowing I was doing this for families like the one I support, really helped when I felt I couldn’t go any further.
‘The descent down into the Canyon, at Mooney Falls, was really scary – and the final two-mile ascent, after nine miles of hiking in the heat, seemed like climbing a mountain but I think we all felt quite emotional when the last person made it to the top. It’s been a remarkable experience.’
Chief executive of Camp Simcha Neville Goldschneider said: ‘We often talk about our supporters going the extra mile for us but I think that is an understatement for our amazing Conquer the Canyon trekkers. This was well out of most of the participants’ comfort zones, but they did it and have raised a huge amount in the process to help ensure Camp Simcha can continue to provide the vital practical and emotional support services we offer to more and more families who need us.’