Earlier this week, Foundation for Jewish Camp convened the field of Jewish camp at its 6th Leaders Assembly biennial conference, with over 750 camp professionals, lay leaders, educators, philanthropists, and communal professionals who spent three days reflecting, sharing and learning.
We took time to celebrate collaboration among camps, working together as a field, and accomplishments over the past 18 years, including: record enrollment growth in overnight camps, now reaching an all-time high of 79,000 campers and 11,000 college-aged counselors. (When we add in those who participated in Jewish day camps, we estimate over 200,000 campers, teens, and college-aged students who enjoyed a Jewish summer experience in North America); 10 years of One Happy Camper and 68,000+ first-time campers who otherwise would not have had a Jewish summer; and 10 years of Customer Satisfaction Insights, a tool that has helped camps pinpoint strengths and weaknesses and improve their camp.
We acknowledged and thanked those who make it all possible – the many funders who have invested significantly in Jewish camps all over North America and in FJC, the community partners who have embraced camping to engage their community, and the long-serving camp professionals who have dedicated their careers to nurture our children.
As FJC turns 18, we continue to believe passionately that Jewish summers are the key to the Jewish future. We know that sending young people to Jewish camp connects them to each other, to their Jewishness, and to the broader Jewish community. As a result of the strength, momentum, and evolution of the field, we have refreshed our mission, beliefs and aspirations to include all summer experiences: day camps, overnight camps, and teen experiences. We have evolved our brand and messaging, which will help us advocate effectively on behalf of every summer experience, every family, and every child we aspire to serve.
Jewish day camps and family camps can serve as low-barrier experiences for many less engaged families and can be a pivot point for them in making future Jewish choices, which can have a long effect on the Jewish journey for the entire family. We know that 91% of kids in overnight camp had previously attended a day camp…but not necessarily a Jewish day camp. FJC has begun devoting more resources and capacity to better understand and serve day camps. We are excited to apply our learnings from our 18 years of growing and professionalizing the Jewish overnight camp field to day camps.
We also believe that Jewish camp must be more inclusive and diverse. To advance our efforts to help the field reflect the diversity of today’s and tomorrow’s Jewish community we focused an entire day at Leaders Assembly on just that. We announced a new innovative engagement initiative of up to $100,000 in grants to support organizational efforts to deeply engage and welcome a more diverse camper community. We hope to stimulate innovative recruiting, outreach, or programmatic efforts by day camps, overnight camps, and federation community partners in engaging interfaith, multi-ethnic, LGBTQ, and campers with disabilities.
We also continue to pay a great deal of attention to college-aged counselors. We all know that the power of Jewish camp is that staff develops important needed skills, all within a Jewish context. Fortune 500 companies have identified these important skills that the camp experience so powerfully delivers as most valuable in new hires. We have begun working with camps to help staff frame their summers at camp, give them tools to tell the story of how working at camp helped them acquire 21st century skills and provide them with cache for working at camp.
Finally, we have increased significantly the number of teens at camps over the last five years through specialty camps and leadership programs at established camps. As the Jewish community continues to place a high priority on teen engagement post B’nai Mitzvah, more specialty camps targeted for teens will continue to be critical to engage this age cohort. We are working to expand Jewishly-oriented alternatives to attract even more teens to capture those who want to develop a special skill, those who have never before considered a Jewish camp or those who have outgrown traditional camp.
The response to Leaders Assembly has been humbling. I want to share with you one particular comment that has really struck me: “It is amazing what FJC has accomplished over its 18 years. The world of Jewish camping has been fundamentally changed. Just imagine what it will be like in 2034 (the double Chai anniversary of FJC).”