Freedom Trip

The Ohr Meir Freedom Trips are a series of ongoing trips for teens that empower them to deal with their daily challenges. The trips are each for several days, and have included destinations such as Washington DC, Virginia, Boston, California, and Niagara Falls. The children are accompanied by top notch counselors, and therapists to assure they get the best care.

Below is what one girl recently wrote about the Ohr Meir Freedom Trips several years after participating in them:
The idea was incredible. And impossible. But it definitely happened. I know, because I was on the trips. You see, it takes heart to have compassion for a teen going through a difficult illness, but the sensitivity it takes to be able to fulfill the unspoken needs of a group of teenagers’ all at different stages in their illness or in life goes far beyond a little pity.

When the first trip was put together, I was already done with my 9 month chemo and radiation regimen.

Then what, on earth, was I doing on these trips

That’s an excellent question and a fabulous misunderstanding.I remember overhearing an oncologist who was also a cancer survivor respond to the query ‘what was the hardest part of your cancer experience?’ Being that she had been sick many years before any organizations began, or before nausea meds were prescribed I thought I could guess what she would answer. I was totally blown away, and felt more validated than I ever did in my whole life when the answer was ‘getting back to normal life’.

It wasn’t only survivors on the trip. Some of us were. Some were smack in the middle of a chemo cycle. Some were recovering from major surgery or waiting for results from their last scan. But my best friends were on that trip. At the time in my life, the world around me was the loneliest place to be. I seemed to have matured 9 years in 9 months and all my friends were so far beyond, so childish and so shallow. (We caught up to each other, later, and we are so close now, but then, no-go.) My biggest fear was losing all that I gained from my illness, most of all my new best friends. Sometimes, when I had neither the strength nor the patience to deal with day-to-day issues like homework, boredom, comments about my short hair, lateness’s in school and ‘socialness’, which all seemed so petty and annoying, I just wanted to be with my new friends. I wanted to talk to people who knew the vocabulary I recently learned, who knew how to laugh at big problems and ignore little issues and who knew how to gently coax me and teach me how move on without losing out.

The miracle of these trips was empowerment. They didn’t hold me back from letting go, or stifle my desire to shake off my identity as the sick kid. On the contrary, they gave me the security that my new friends would still be there for me, always. The trips gave me the confidence to focus on being a giver, something I wasn’t used to after taking so much for a year. And now, so many years and milestones later, you and I can only wonder how far-reaching the effects are.I would feel weird calling the organizers and counselors on the trips anything but friends and confidants. Their openness, their sensitivity, their generosity and most of all- their attitude towards us as wonderful people by our own right makes them special role-models in my life to this very day. Washington D.C. and VirginaThis was the only trip that took convincing for us to come. After that it was us planning the next trip, the last day of the previous. It didn’t take much. Especially after the introductory phone call we got, asking us some questions. Each was a lesson in sensitivity and offering the highest comfort level possible. ‘any medical needs’, ‘stamina level’, ‘travel needs’, favorite foods’, what finger foods do you like to nibble on’, ‘what kind of books and games do you prefer’ etc. You can be sure that and preference even hinted to was brought along on the trip. And the siblings left at home always so jealous of the attention? They got a box full of the latest toys and gifts. Did I say a lesson in sensitivity??

Highlights

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (our playful discussions about astronauts using the bathroom in space), To Fly – an IMAX, Bureau of Engraving, The Spy Museum, The White House, VIP meeting with Jerry Nadler (autographs), the beautiful rented 15 seater (discussions about reflexology), our luxurious stay at the Sheraton (is that when you got them to give us all free Sheraton pillows because we all slept so well on them), Shabbos experience at the Chabad Farbreng Inn (the discovery of the distinct taste of fennel a ‘private joke’ ’til today), free souvenir shopping

Boston

“If you need me, but don’t want me, I’ll be there, if you don’t need me and want me I won’t be there.” An essential part of every trip was self-discovery and growth. This trip was especially beneficial. The above quote was discussed one night amidst much laughter, describing our own life and the struggle of moving on. The bonding of our group was cemented and strengthened from trip to trip, and in-between, and we leaned on each other for support in a healthy, non- intrusive way. The ‘Thrilling 5WITS Adventure’ was the last part of this trip. It was a hands-on mystery that we all had to solve together. The camaraderie, fun and success in solving the puzzles, uncovering clues, and achieving clarity, were symbolic to what was going on in our real lives.

Highlights

MIT museum (have you ever seen a chair explode and reassemble itself?), The igNobel prize (hilarious), IMAX Shackleton’s Adventure (powerful message of victory), SPECTACULAR sunset tour, Boston Walking Tour (way too historical for us, we ignored the guide, and had our own ridiculously amazing time), Boston Duck Tours (never on anything like it, a blast with a splash), staying in the Bostoner Shul for Shabbos (uplifting)

California

We missed our flight. You got that. We missed our flight. We packed for a weeks, it was planned for months and we missed our flight. Craziest part of all, we were all still smiling. The trips were much more than the place to go, the things to do, for us, as long as we were together we knew it would all work out.  Perhaps, it was then we adopted E.’s famous line ‘life is an adventure’. Then D. yelled out “Burbank! Let’s fly to Burbank”. Nothing is impossible when it comes to us, and it seemed like the driver would be able to pick up our luggage from LA, as it was already on the plane, and meet us at the Burbank airport a few hours away. We were more than game, IF we’d be able to get on the Burbank flight. Imagine the shock and excitement when the airport personnel told us we told we can, but that they have only seven seats left on the flight. We were exactly seven people.

Highlights

C.M. (In LA we met C. and stayed by her for Shabbos, C. was a multi-faceted personality, with fun bursting out of her, great ideas, a very successful life, and great conversation pieces. As a side detail she was also a cancer survivor. Unforgettable Inspiration.), Sheraton, (glamorous!), A stunning limo-style roomy coach (with a hilarious driver who became an integral part of the trip, Bob), free souvenir shopping (we all bought cozy sweatshirts), concert (we actually went for the pre-show practice and got front row seats and personal attention), Haunted House, Pirates of the Caribbean, Wheel-chair access (always obtained discretely, behind our backs), Lego land (awesome!), Sea World, Dog Show (we had a great laugh at one part entitled ‘hair removal’) Shamoo Show (sitting in the wet spot), Water Rapids Ride (three times! we begged the guy to let us go again without getting off the ride),  speaking about ‘unspeakables’ with C. (since we spoke unspeakables I can’t tell what about but suffice it to say it was very good for all of us to speak about it)

I could call the trips an experience OF a lifetime. Truer yet- an experience FOR a lifetime. We’re still so close, still being strong, still strengthening each other, still laughing, still so appreciative of people who know how to make lasting impressions, not where there’s the most noise, but where they’re needed most.