Inspiring Leadership

Why is investing in leadership training for camp staff at all levels is so important?

Early research on the impact of Jewish camp has shown that the quality of the camp experience is strongly related to the quality of the staff. Our experience, over the past 18 years, has proven that camps with strong professional leadership excel in attracting more campers and providing them and their staff with a meaningful summer.  We have also seen that the investments we have made in 165 individuals through our senior leadership training programs (Executive Leadership Institute, Yitro Fellowship, and Lekhu Lakhem) have paid significant dividends, the skills these professionals gained have changed their personal journeys as well as their camps.

But camps are unique!  Camps employ both full-time and seasonal staff and they all play a paramount role in creating the “magic” of camp.

So where do we start? Where do we put our emphasis? How do we ensure that there is a strong leadership pipeline?

Last month, I visited FJC’s 14th annual Cornerstone Fellowship.  This five-day seminar has become the preeminent Jewish experiential education training program for returning bunk counselors, all of whom are passionate about Judaism and camp.  Cornerstone engages this group and gives them the tools to be effective Jewish leaders in their camps and beyond; they are the “crème de la crème” for future leadership in the Jewish community. I am so proud of how this program continues to be such a powerful catalyst for innovation and inspiration.

This year, we have been able to offer micro-grants to our 3,000 alumni to use what they’ve learned at Cornerstone to create engaging programs on their campuses or home communities. We are grateful to the Cornerstone funder consortium, The AVI CHAI Foundation, the Marcus Foundation, Crown Family Philanthropies and the Morningstar Foundation, for their continued support.

During directors’ visiting day at Cornerstone, we spent some time with the directors to pinpoint the “leaky parts” of the Jewish Camp leadership pipeline.  Together, we were able to identify possible future training opportunities, such as:

  • Enhancing and expanding teen leadership programs
  • Developing additional specialized trainings for college aged counselors
  • Creating early career opportunities for those seeking full time Jewish camp jobs
  • Supporting senior staff in supervisory and camper care roles
  • Onboarding new camp directors

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other”, as John F. Kennedy once observed.  These efforts will ensure our pipeline of camp professionals is robust and full and that camps will continue to meet their maximum potential.

As we embark on the camping season for 2016, more than 16,000 college-aged counselors will work in Jewish overnight and day camps this summer.  They represent the front-line role models for the more than 185,000 campers.  Even more, these staff members are beginning their own professional journeys, acquiring skills and experiences which will serve them well throughout their careers.

I admit that FJC’s investment in camp professionals is self-serving. Our mission is to strengthen camps in order to attract more campers each year. But each professional development program we offer has an important ripple effect — these leaders inspire changes in their camps and, in turn, on their college campuses and in their communities as well.

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.