Within the next few days, Jewish summer day and overnight camps across the Northern Hemisphere will have concluded what some have called, “a summer like no other.”
We all feel such admiration and pride in the collective strength, resilience, and dedication of our camp communities. Campers, counselors, staff, and parents worked together to ensure that everyone stayed healthy and safe. To be sure, camps operated differently this summer, yet the many COVID-related protocols and non-pharmaceutical interventions really worked. Camps provided a much-needed oasis – a vital dosage of joyous Judaism and, at least for a few weeks, a return to some sense of normalcy.
And, just in the nick of time. With the troubling spread of Delta around the world and the emotional whiplash of pandemic uncertainty once again, our gratitude for this summer only increases.
At the same time, we know the physical and psychological toll the pandemic has inflicted on all of us. Healthcare experts have documented troubling spikes in anxiety and depression among youth, teens, and college students who have been cut off from their peers and routines. While we know the social and emotional benefits of camp for one’s healthy development and growth, this summer, camps had to navigate through enormous mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health (MESSH) challenges facing their community members.
Ahead of this summer, FJC provided resources for camp professionals so they could better support their communities, made possible by the generosity of The Marcus Foundation. As part of our Yedid Nefesh Initiative, FJC funded additional mental health professionals working at 30 camps, provided evidence-based mental health training to more than 300 camp staff, and created resources like the La-Bri’ut Curriculum, focusing on building resiliency skills through Jewish values.
To better understand and learn from the challenges and experiences of this summer, next week, we will convene an End-of-Summer Mental Health Summit in conjunction with BBYO Center for Adolescent Wellness. We will collect and analyze data from the field to determine further needs, trainings, and resources which will be most helpful in preparation for next summer and beyond. We are also excited to launch a second cohort of Yedid Nefesh to give 30 additional camps funding and support for more MESSH staffing and training over the next three years.
Much remains to be done. But at this moment, we should celebrate the heroism and recognize the dedication of our camp professionals. They truly inspire us. Their achievements, in the face of unbelievable, unrelenting daily disruptions and difficulties, created this summer’s much-needed oasis, which gives us much strength and positivity as we prepare to enter the New Year.