By Adam Shapiro, NFTY-STR Social Action Vice President
Late Saturday night, I stood with my co-counselors outside our cabin filled with sleeping campers. Through the sounds of the woods and the creaks of our footsteps, we distinctly recognized Brandez’s yawn as he slept inside. I knew I had created a bond with these kids that couldn’t be created by any other experience. My personal Camp Jenny journey began two years ago when I had the privilege of being a CIT. In this life-changing weekend, my eyes were first opened to the harsh reality these children deal with everyday. My heart was broken when I discovered that many of the campers did not receive the same three meals a day I had grown up with. After that weekend I knew deep down that I wanted to become a part of the Camp Jenny legacy, and one day follow in my sister’s footsteps to become a co-director of the camp.
The following year as a senior counselor, one of my campers arrived with a pillowcase full of cotton balls. Immediately, one of my co-counselors offered the camper his own pillow. I realized the selflessness Camp Jenny brings out in the NFTYites who attend. Each year, Camp Jenny plays an integral part in my life and that of many of my peers. It puts life back in perspective, giving us purpose outside our own daily bubble and away from our schoolwork. Camp Jenny gives us an opportunity to practice the Jewish teaching of “loving our neighbors as ourselves.” Without Camp Jenny, I wouldn’t have had the hands-on experience of truly putting the necessities of someone in need before my own. Whether I am fundraising, recruiting, or volunteering for Camp Jenny there is always some part of my week that I dedicate to helping further Camp Jenny and its mission.
At the end of each Camp Jenny, saying goodbye is always the hardest part of the weekend. The bonds that I create with my campers have reduced me to tears, wishing I didn’t have to send them back to their tough neighborhood. As I said goodbye to my campers this past year, the only thing I had left to offer them consisted of words of encouragement for their future, “brothers forever”, and “I love you bud”. Camp Jenny gives me the opportunity to be the change I want to see in the world by giving my campers the teen role-models they so desperately need. I am elated when I see my campers mimicking good behavior and achieving what they thought they couldn’t, whether it is saying please and thank you to the kitchen staff or climbing all the way up the rock wall. There is no personal reward that compares to that of changing a child’s life and giving them inspiration and hope for their future.
Next year as part of my role as NFTY-STR’s SAVP I will have the honor of serving as co-director of Camp Jenny with NFTY-SAR’s SAVP Hayley Giambalvo. This role will include staffing, planning, programming, and facilitating Camp Jenny. Although it will be the most demanding position I have ever held, it will be the most enjoyable and rewarding. In our first official meeting, David Haller, one of Camp Jenny’s first directors, told us that we were now the guardians of Camp Jenny. Fulfilling this role as a guardian by keeping Camp Jenny at the level of excellence created by its past directors is going to be the biggest challenge I have ever faced. But I know with support of my co-director Hayley, NFTY-STR advisor Julie Marsh, NFTY-SAR advisor Jaime Cojac, Camp Jenny 2014 will be one of the best yet!