Did you know that summer camp is about more than fun? What are your plans for June, July and August? As I reflect upon my camp experience as a youngster at the Jewish Community Center in Gloversville, New York, I am reminded how my 11 years spent in camp during the summer months helped prepare me for adulthood.
Some of the most important things I took away from my summers at the J.C.C. David S. Van Santen Day Camp in Gloversville were the friendships and life skills I learned along the way. I made lifelong friends at camp. We do not need to see or talk to each other to pick up where we left off. Our shared camp experiences carry us through the years.
I discovered what could be accomplished through teamwork at summer camp, as well as the importance of unstructured play. These are important life skills.
Growing up I did not participate on any school sports team. During the summer, I played all kinds of team games. Was I best athlete? I would love to say yes, but I would be kidding myself. I did have fun and learned what it meant to be on a team. I learned that it was OK to lose and not be the best.
Our camp was in the woods by the Great Sacandaga Lake. Every summer we would spend hours creating forts. This was always a group effort. The entire group planned and created the fort. The design and execution always changed depending on the day, members of the group and how well we worked together.
This also taught me to be flexible. We may plan for something but sometimes life throws us a curveball. The more flexible we are, the easier these curveballs can be. I may not have been happy when the group was not doing what I wanted but we cannot always get our way. This simple idea is so important in our adult lives. We work in groups and on teams. We plan for what we think will create the best outcome. Sometimes, plans change or group dynamics are altered. My fort-building camp days taught me to be able to go with the flow when things happen.
As the director of Camp Haverim, I see these ideas come to life through our campers. It took me a long time to understand the importance of camp and the positive effect it has on us. It is my goal to help bring out these ideas and more in our campers. I have seen children learn to be adventurous in trying new foods, discover a love for new people and for Israel, come out of their shells and push past their comfort zones. All of these things and more can be accomplished during one summer at J-Camp at the Jewish Alliance’s Dwares JCC.
After the end of 2016 camp, I received the following comments from a parent. They show how camp can have a positive impact on our children.
“I just wanted to ‘thank you’ for providing Henry with such a great summer! The fun, loving and family environment that you provided was just what Henry needed to help him move forward in his development. He gained a stronger sense of pride, responsibility and independence. He matured over the summer and grew not just in height but in personality. The program that you have put together is what all families desire when looking for a summer program for their children.
“Henry is diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum. He is on the higher functioning end and has made great progress in his development since his diagnosis. He still struggles. Although he has attended the JCC since 18 months I was still very worried with him attending the upstairs camp because it was new to him. I think after the first day or two and definitely after the first field trip I had total confidence in the staff including the wonderful CITs! I was concerned with the CITs being young and possibly not understanding Henry. Wow was I wrong! The CITs worked as if they were seasoned child care providers. This was a result of great training, direction, along with wonderful individuals.
“In the past Henry has regressed over the summer but this year he made progress. I feel that his summer experience played a big role in this! So from the bottom of my heart I will be forever grateful for all the work that you and your staff put in over the summer.”
SETH FINKLE is director of Camp Haverim and teen programs at the Jewish Alliance. For more information about J-Camp, email him or contact him at 401-421-4111, ext. 146.