by Lauryn Smith
As a long-time camp person, I couldn’t remember a time where I didn’t live by the motto #10For2. All year long I count down for those 39 magical days of camp, because it’s given me lifelong friendships, shaped me into the leader I am today, and most of all it’s the place where I can be my most authentic self. For many of our Keshet participants and staff, their experience is no different. Keshet is fortunate to partner with many camps around the Chicagoland area, including JCC’s Apachi Day Camps, Ramah Day Camp, and our very own Keshet Teen and Tween Camp. We also partner with JCC’s Camp Chi in Lake Delton, Wisconsin, all of which provide opportunities for both campers and staff to spend their summers at their home away from home.
Prior to my internship at Keshet, I’ve mainly been connected to Keshet through camp. Apachi’s partnership with Keshet has remained such an important part of my camping journey since I began attending camp at three years old. Having now been on staff for over six years and a part of the leadership team for two, I feel like I have an even greater glimpse as to the amazing work that Keshet does each year. Though the parents may register their children through a different system and the staff’s paycheck comes from a different organization, the partnership could not be more seamless. In fact, most of the campers don’t really even know the difference. Keshet’s mission to creating a community of belonging for everyone certainly translates into the camping experience, and the impact this has extends to campers, staff, and everyone in between.
My first experience with a camper with Keshet support in my own camp group was with a girl named Julie.* I have a vivid memory of the Keshet site director coming to visit our group and read us a story about inclusion and celebrating differences, but in my nine-year-old-eyes, it wasn’t even necessary. Julie was just another member of the group to me. She went swimming and rode the bus like the rest of us, and we even signed up for the same drama specialty where we got to put on a play for the entire camp. Having been exposed to these experiences at a young age reminded me why inclusion is not just important, but a necessity. Camp is something that everyone should get to experience, and knowing that Keshet’s work makes that happen for so many truly lights me up inside.
Fast forward to when I became a Counselor-in-Training (CIT) and got to see a totally new perspective to the inclusion that Keshet facilitates. I was fortunate enough to meet Sara,* who I actually ended up having in my group again as a counselor, and her presence in our group made a lasting impression on each of us. Just as any other day, we were in the locker room changing out of our bathing suits from swimming. The counselors and I must’ve had our backs turned for nearly a second before we witnessed something amazing—another one of the campers in my group was bending down to help tie Sara’s shoes. I almost wanted to cry, because this was by no means this five-year-old child’s responsibility or something she was asked to do, but she did it because of the simplest of life’s lessons—you help out your friends. In this moment was when I realized what having campers of all abilities at camp can really do for children. Yet just as I experienced as a camper, for all the campers involved, it’s just part of what’s normal and natural at the camps where Keshet is a partner.
What I love most about camp is that it’s just as much for the staff as it is for the campers. The skills that staff gain from working at camp are unlike any other job out there. Not only do they grow in their leadership and help make a difference in the lives of children, our staff make lifelong friends that keep them coming back year after year. Keshet staff get to be a part of the camp group and unit structure just as any of the rest of the staff do, though what makes the role of the Keshet staff particularly special is how strong of a bond they get to cultivate with just one camper. Many of my friends who have been Keshet staff still remain part of their camper’s lives years later. Spending 24/7 during those eight weeks of the summer creates an intimate relationship that most people do not ever get to experience.
Though I’ve now been able to see so much more of the incredible things that Keshet does over the last few months, it will always come back to camp for me. The work that we do to ensure that each and every one of our campers is truly magical, and it’s why we all continue to returning summer after summer. Now having spent the past four months learning the ins and outs of this incredible organization I am certain that I will see this upcoming summer and my camp’s partnership with Keshet with a completely different lens. I can’t wait to spend yet another summer at the best place under the sun and for all our first-time campers to see how magical camp truly is!
*Campers’ names have been changed for this article.