Summer 2015: The Season’s Looking Bright

Inside Leadership

Summer 2015: The Season’s Looking Bright

With just a week until the launch of the URJ’s 2015 camp season, there’s innovative programming on tap, all of which promises to make this summer the best ever! Throughout the season, we’ll engage 13,000+ campers and young adults from more than 660 congregations (along with 600 congregational clergy, educators, and youth professionals who will serve as faculty) in a wide assortment of initiatives – old favorites and creative newcomers – making this our eighth consecutive year of growth.

A few highlights…

Enrollment in Mitzvah Corps, which engages teens in immersive social action service learning opportunities around the globe, is up by 25 percent. New programs are getting underway in the Pacific Northwest, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, and we tripled the number of teens in our programs in Costa Rica by introducing regional cohorts through our camp communities.

Likewise, in only its second year, 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy’s overall registration figures are up. Factor in a return rate of 70 percent, which is above average for specialty camps, and triple the number of girls enrolled as compared with last summer, and it’s clear that the camp community is flourishing. From robotics and video game design to forensics, digital film production, and more, campers learn and create in a collaborative environment around the topics that capture their imaginations. There’s plenty of time, too, for more traditional camp activities – tennis, soccer, Frisbee, kickball, nature hikes, and Gaga, as well as for building and enriching connections to the Jewish community, a hallmark of all our camps and travel programs.

In an effort to add value to existing congregational and community initiatives, Eisner and Crane Lake Camps’ Northeast Teen Collective, building on its extremely successful summer counselor-in-training program, is creating year-round leadership internships to give teens skill building and mentorship opportunities that extend beyond the summer.

A number of URJ camps will be celebrating milestone anniversaries this summer – Crane Lake Camp will be 18, Greene Family Camp will mark 40 years, and Kutz will rejoice in its Jubilee year. All of them are using these occasions to leverage alumni engagement, most notably with a Kutz@50 celebratory July 4th weekend.

Mirroring the strength of our summer programming, our camp facilities, infrastructure, and systems are similarly strong, safe and vibrant. Camp Newman received a gift of $4 million from the Koret Foundation – our largest gift to date – toward a $30 million capital campaign. The funding will enable the camp to add four lodge buildings and a welcome center to the existing facility. These additions will not only enhance the Newman experience for our campers, but also for the 5,000+ people who attend retreats and conferences year-round at the site.

Indeed, when the summer sun fades, an array of our other initiatives will move into high gear, including:

  • A continued expansion of NFTY678, a congregational-based initiative that welcomes middle school students to the NFTY community;
  • NFTY initiatives around gun violence prevention, inclusivity, and race relations and economic equality;
  • A new URJ Community of Practice for congregations that successfully have launched – and are actively engaged in – experimentation and innovation around b’nai mitzvah; and
  • Planning for teen leaders’ participation at Biennial – as members of their congregations’ Biennial delegations, and in a special symposium focused on teens and social justice.

One final note about our teen leaders: The newly elected North American NFTY board comprises six young people whose devotion to and leadership of Reform Jewish life and the Jewish future are without question. We are proud of them and their commitment to our movement and our youth initiatives, and we know that as long as they are at the helm, our Reform Movement’s future is bright.

Indeed, the summer and beyond are looking bright for our camps, and for our travel and service learning programs – and for the thousands of campers, staff, and faculty who will spend time building and enriching our innovative Jewish communities in the coming months.

Miriam Chilton is the URJ’s vice president, youth.

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