June 13, 2018

Staff Week: Leadership, empowering campers and… 4 days until camp!

By Sam Bloom

Lake livin’, cookout, training, paint night, bowling, chugim, sikkums, swimming, basketball leagues, cooking,  learning, sharing, creating relationships, community building, program planning, reconnecting to camp, reconnecting to each other, and making new friends. All in a staff training week’s work at Emma Kaufmann Camp.

The staff arrived on Monday to light dew (“dew”– our word at camp for rain – it can be light or heavy, but it’s never rain, just dew), but spirits were sky high, and they haven’t come down yet.  That’s exactly what we want out of our first two days.  And there is much more to come, including what is sure to be the most special Shabbat that we’ve had so far, with new benches and a brand-new atmosphere at the greatest place in the world!

But on Monday night we made their spirits even higher.  We decided to take a different approach to our “opening night” for staff week.  In the past, we’ve had various types of activities that got everyone to “loosen up”, get out of their comfort zone and have fun.  Don’t worry; we have still done plenty of that these past 2 days and more is coming this week.

In February, I attended a Hiddur camp conference, where I participated in a workshop led by artist, poet and performer Caroline Rothstein.  Her work and her poems stuck with me.  The poem she had me write about my own Jewish journey is still sticking with me.  I knew she was what we needed to start the summer at EKC.

What an inspiring 2 days we just had with Caroline.  Through her poetry, she talked about how her camp friends pulled her through major life milestones and struggles.  She talked about the power of our camp community and how her camp relationships are the most important in her life.  We were already in such high spirits to be back at camp, and she lifted us even higher as we were reminded of why we love this place so much.

We spent time examining our own growth as leaders in camp and in our home communities.  What is our leadership style as individuals?  How is that influenced by Jewish values?  What core Jewish values inform how I see myself in this Jewish place? What does that mean for me as a counselor or specialist at camp and how will that impact my campers?  These are all questions we were asking ourselves.  We dived in deep and shared our Jewish journeys with one another.  Our staff took risks sharing personal stories and values with other staff they’ve never even met before.   Here I watched for 3 hours yesterday morning as these young adults spoke up and weren’t afraid to be vulnerable in a room of closest friends and complete strangers.  That’s the magic of what camp can do.  How comfortable we get so quickly.  How we can be our true selves.  How it is a safer space than almost anywhere else in the world.

We ended our time with Caroline with a lunch session for just Caroline and the female staff.  It was a group discussion on role modeling and healthy relationships.  On how we can make our female campers feel valued and recognize their self-worth.  The group reflected and shared personal stories of moments they felt undervalued or over looked and moments they felt empowered. Caroline coached our female staff on how they can make their campers feel empowered this summer.  And the responsibility they have to instill confidence and self-worth in our girls.

For staff, how do we make sure that they learn how to take care of your children? All while making sure that they still have fun?  That’s it still feels like camp?  It’s simple.  We create the experience for them.  They are not campers anymore.  That’s a tough pill to swallow for many of them.  Who wouldn’t to be a kid forever?  And for many, being a kid (camper) at camp is a journey that dates 10 years back.  Starting in Sabra and culminating as an SIT and going to Israel.  But one thing remains constant.  It’s camp.  And the experience we are creating for them is preparing them to make a difference in people’s lives.  They are ready to go.  And we remind our staff that their time, their building of relationships, creating kehilah (community), and just their sheer presence makes all the difference in the world to their campers, to each other, to those around them and to me.  Once each of them figures that out, they’ll be able to do what they each say they come back for, to give back to people and to a place that has given so much to them.

Around here we say a day in camp time feels as long as a week in the real world.  We’ve been here for 48 hours, and it feels like 2 weeks.  Yet we wish it wouldn’t go so fast.

Can’t wait for Sunday!  See you at the buses!

We Are Family!