Play is a universal language for kids.

That's why select camps throughout the Garden State have opted to host children from war-torn Ukraine, free of charge, for summer 2022.

"I felt that camp could be a fantastic healing experience for these kids, and I think we we were pretty dead-on with that," said Jonathan Gold, who directs Tamarack Day Camp in Randolph, Oak Crest Day Camp in Somerset, and Pine Grove Day Camp in Wall.

The three locations are handling a total of a dozen or so children whose families fled Ukraine to live with loved ones in the Garden State.

"We gave them all full scholarships to camp this summer," Gold said.

The children range from age 5 to pre-teen, Gold said.

There is a language barrier, but staffers use online translators when necessary. And, Gold was surprised to learn that some staff members could speak Ukrainian or Russian.

Youth, though, instinctively know how to interact with one another, he noted.

"I don't care what language it is, I don't care what country you come from — if you can start to understand a game, you can communicate, and that's what we've seen happen," Gold said.

This isn’t the first time camps have responded to children affected by tragedy, according to the American Camp Association, NY and NJ. Through the Association's Heal the Children program, camps offered free services to children who lost a parent on Sept. 11, 2001, and again to children whose homes were damaged by Sandy in October 2012.

"Providing children with a rewarding summer at camp is one small way we can help them overcome adversity," said Alicia Skovera, executive director.

On a national level, the American Camp Association worked with the U.S. Department of State to place more than 100 Ukrainian high school exchange students at overnight camps across the country.

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at

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