Crisis Breeds Innovation

It’s hard to even fathom that Summer 2020 has almost ended – a summer with nearly all of the 160+ nonprofit Jewish overnight camps and about half of the day camps in our network not operating in-person camp. Campers, parents, counselors, alumni, and full-time professionals have experienced the very real pain of this loss.

And yet, camp people demonstrate tremendous determination, creativity, and grit. Collectively, we have adapted and experimented and have learned much which will help guide FJC’s future efforts. We’re proud that this summer’s virtual content and experiences designed to engage current campers and potential new ones have far exceeded our initial expectations.

Crisis breeds innovation, and we expect the best innovations
will outlast the crises that inspired them.

As the upheaval and isolation of this pandemic now enters its sixth month, we know both day and overnight camps will require an even more robust talent pipeline – from counselors to year-round professionals – with even more nimble, adaptive, and creative capabilities to lead our field and Jewish community in the days, months, and even years ahead.

I want to share with you a number of ways FJC has used this summer to generate new approaches that reinvent and reimagine camp leadership at every level, making each role more relevant, forward-thinking, agile, and expansive.

  1. Reimagining the Counselor Experience: We recently conducted a two-week intensive innovation experience engaging eleven 18-25 year-old counselors from eight different camps to help explore key issues facing today’s camp counselors. Working in cross-camp teams during this Hack-a-thon, these passionate and insightful participants pitched their ideas to experienced camp directors and educators, which our team will further refine over the fall and winter months. We’ve also been happy to engage nearly 60 day camp counselors-in-training in Tzedek Tzircles*, a six-week virtual program using Judaism as an educational platform for teens of all faiths and backgrounds to sharpen their camp skills and transfer them to social justice causes, all while expanding their social network.
  2. Addressing Mental Health: Last week marked the conclusion of our pilot Mental Health and Wellness Internship Program* – 24 interns, selected from a pool of over 50 applications, representing 20 different camps, participated in a five-week intensive program with FJC. Together they learned, grew, and developed special projects to proactively address the growing mental, emotional, and social health (MESH) challenges faced by youth at camp and beyond. Working in teams, they presented 11 impressive projects, ranging from mood music playlists to a three-part counselor-in-training curriculum, to bring back to camps, campuses, the field, and the entire Jewish community.
  3. Envisioning the Future of Jewish Camp: FJC is currently running an Innovation Challenge, with camp professionals, lay leaders, and strategic partners working in teams to design, refine, and test ideas addressing some of the field’s biggest challenges, including filling the leadership pipeline. Over the next few weeks, participants will be provided with expert mentors, design thinking, and planning tools. At the end of the program, they will pitch their ideas to a panel of experts who will help determine which teams may be eligible for funding to pilot their initiatives over the next six months.

These are just three examples of the critical and necessary research and development (R&D) activities FJC has undertaken to nurture and foster talent committed to the field and engaged with Jewish life. We have no doubt that these initial efforts, born out of this summer’s crisis, will provide learning, knowledge, and insights which will help us scale these efforts into initiatives with even broader impact. We look forward to keeping you informed of our progress in the months ahead.

About the Author
Jeremy J. Fingerman has served as CEO of Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) since 2010. Prior to joining FJC, he had a highly-regarded 20+ year career in Consumer Packaged Goods, beginning at General Mills, Inc, then at Campbell Soup Company, where he served as president of its largest division, US Soup. In 2005, he was recruited to serve as CEO of Manischewitz.
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