Jonathan "J.C." Cohen, MAJCS/MSW Director, URJ Henry S. Jacobs Camp
Who doesn't want a congregation filled with young people excited about being Jewish? A summer spent at a URJ Camp is an amazing experience, one that has lifelong benefits for the child and meaningful reverberations that have a positive impact on families, congregations and communities, especially small ones. When kids return home from camp, they want to be involved; they want to learn; and they want to lead. As small congregations with large camp contingents know, the infusion of youthful energy is felt throughout the congregation.
In these difficult financial times, camp scholarships are the only way some families can send their children to camp. And for some congregations, this becomes a challenge, as they, too, have limited (to no) scholarship resources. Therefore, it is important that congregational leaders be well-versed in the camp scholarships available in their community.
Nationwide, there are special programs for new campers that offer first-time camper incentives. These are not need-based; instead, they are meant to be incentives to get families to try out camp. (In a few communities, there are even second-year incentives.)
If your congregation is in a community with a Jewish Federation or a Jewish Family Service-type agency, reach out to these institutions and find out what camp scholarships are available. If no such program exists, then go to the members of your congregation who may serve on those boards (not unusual in a smaller Jewish community) and find out why they don't provide financial support for would-be Jewish campers. Given the national recognition Jewish camping has received, a case for a scholarship allocation can be easily made. (See the recent study: Camp Works: The Long-term Impact of Jewish Overnight Camp.) While it is true that scholarship allocations, like all agency allocations, have been hit by the economy, that doesn't mean there isn't or shouldn't be some money available, and when it comes to paying for camp, every little bit helps.
And, finally, every URJ Camp offers its own scholarships. Each camp has a different amount of money available, and different policies and procedures for granting scholarships. We all expect families to reach out to all other sources first, and have an expectation that the local congregation will do its part. But, none of the camps want to turn away a child for whom camp will make a difference. Contact your regional camp director to find out what scholarships are available.
A summer-or, preferably, multiple summers!-spent at a URJ Camp changes the lives of children for the better, and there are lots of ways to make going to camp a reality.