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Join Me at Summer Camp


By Harold Grinspoon

Summer is upon us and that means camp season will be here again. As I have for each of the past five years, I'll be going to Jewish overnight camp. Not as a camper - I'm 81 - but as a visitor. I've made it a practice to visit Jewish overnight camp because I believe in the transformative influence that Jewish camps have on our children and I think every child could benefit from a camp experience. So, although I never went to summer camp as a child, the support of these institutions has become my hobby and my passion.

Three recent studies put out by the Avi Chai Foundation, the Foundation for Jewish Camps (FJC) and The JCC Association (JCCA) validate my observation that Jewish overnight camps have a positive influence on our children. The conclusion of the studies is that having the Jewish camp experience as a child influences one's Jewish identity as an adult. These studies confirm my belief that Jewish camps are breeding grounds - not for the things mothers don't want to come home in the camp trunk, but for future Jewish thinkers, leaders and philanthropists. Jewish camps are a great investment in a child's future and in the future of the Jewish community.

Now that these studies have confirmed the influence that the camp experience has on creating strong Jewish identities and instilling Jewish values into the future community leaders, it is critical for those of us who care about the future of the Jewish people to support these institutions.

But Jewish camping is not only good for the future of the Jewish people; it's great for the kids who are enjoying it today. The camp experience will leave a lasting impression of the smiling faces of young children as they create lifelong friendships, experience new activities and develop emotional and social skills while learning and growing. That they also develop a love for Judiasm that stays with them into adulthood is almost beside the point, an added benefit, to the fun they have playing outdoors in the summer sun.

In the U.S. there are more than 100 nonprofit Jewish overnight camps, and hundreds of day camps, and each of them can benefit from additional support from the community. How do I know that? Because since 2004 the Grinspoon Institute for Jewish Philanthropy, a program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, has contributed to Jewish overnight camps, and we have seen positive returns on our investments. Through our mentor program we have provided over 38,000 hours of consulting services to help with board development, strategic planning and fundraising training while our technology program has provided professional tools to the camps' fundraising efforts.

Our matching gift programs have leveraged $10.5 million of Foundation funds into over $50 million of matching contributions and an estimated $25 million of additional gifts to camps that have together, in the words of the AVI CHAI study, "ignited interest and activity in Jewish summer camp."

There are lots of ways you can help camps succeed in their mission. You can volunteer to serve on a board or committee. You can also support the camps financially. As a real estate developer, I was drawn to supporting camps because of their substantial investments in land and facilities. These investments need to be maintained and upgraded. Contributing to a capital campaign is a great way to assure that the camp will continue to serve our children for years to come.

But if capital contributions aren't your thing, consider supporting the camp experience. The cost of an overnight Jewish camp can be prohibitive for many families. Working with the Foundation for Jewish Camps' One Happy Camper Program, our Foundation's PJ Goes to Camp initiative is providing incentives for hundreds of children to experience overnight camping for the first time. I invite you to join in this effort to bring the camping experience to every Jewish child in North America by supporting camp incentives and scholarships. Even if you only support one child this summer you'll be doing a great thing.

So whether you're 81 years old or 11 years old, we all have a place in Jewish overnight camp. I'll be at camp this summer. Won't you join me?

Editorial originally posted in The Jewish Week