Paying it Forward, Giving the Gift of Camp
By Jennifer Meltzer
Though we are in the midst of a San Diego winter, if you walk to the center of the JCC’s large field, stop and smell, you can still catch it — the faint whiff of sunscreen.
It lingers, along with the memories of the summer — music, running, snacks, ga-ga, swimming, Israeli dancing, snacks, games, arts and crafts, and, of course, snacks. And as anyone who attended Camp Jaycee, the joyful memories never fully fade.
For the past 76 years, Camp Jaycee has been one of the most beloved programs of the Lawrence Family JCC and has had a positive impact on the greater San Diego community for both Jewish and non-Jewish participants. For decades we have proudly earned an American Camp Association accreditation by providing the highest level of camp programming and services. Camp Jaycee serves children ages 18 months through 16 years and offers an extended array of activities, plus provides the opportunity to celebrate Shabbat, gain positive connections to Judaism, learn about Israel, and form long-term friendships.
Diverse Activities and Participants
The activities aren’t the only aspect of diversity; Camp Jaycee is attended by people of all backgrounds and beliefs. After her daughter attended for the first time, Rose Ryan explained, “normally my husband would refuse to send our child to any kind of religious-affiliated camp or activity as we are humanists. However, our child loved this camp and the concepts that were taught were very much in line with what we teach our own child — kindness, valuing social activism, respect for the environment, etc. The variety of activities was fantastic and the camp staff was very transparent about what was happening throughout the day. Any concerns or questions I raised were quickly resolved or answered and I felt very safe sending my child to Camp Jaycee, knowing that she would be treated with respect and kindness. We plan to send our daughter back every summer as she loved it so much.”
Heaven During a Pandemic
Though camp travel excursions were grounded because of the pandemic, the on-site offerings expanded and flourished. For many of the children, and quite a few of the counselors, Camp Jaycee was their first in-person experience after the extended lockdown. The successful run of the camp was a balm for both the participants and their families after so much uncertainty and time at home. That sentiment was crystallized by Shidokht Yadegari after his 5-year old child had the time of his life. “In this time of the Covid-19 crisis, this camp was heaven for both parent and child. It was super organized, safe, and lots of fun for my son.”
Camp’s Jewish Impact
It has long been established that attending a Jewish camp can have a very significant effect on Jewish identity and behavior. According to the Foundation for Jewish Camp, those who attend camp have a 55% higher emotional attachment to Israel, average 45% higher monthly synagogue attendance, are 47% more likely to regularly light Shabbat candles, are 30% more likely to donate to Jewish federations and are 26% more likely to affiliate with a synagogue.
Thus, the JCC has made it a priority to offer scholarships to make sure that everyone who wants to attend can, regardless of socioeconomic status. Last year, the J launched its inaugural year of the “Give the Gift of Camp Jaycee” campaign, which raised more than $20,000 for children to attend our summer camp.
This year, through a generous $10,000 matching grant from our partners at the Jewish Federation of San Diego County, and a $6,000 matching gift from the George and Florence Flam Scholarship Endowment Fund, every dollar that will be donated can count twice. Heidi Gantwerk, Jewish Federation of San Diego CEO stated, “We are so excited to be partnering with the JCC to make sure every child has the opportunity to participate in camp. There is no experience more important to children than Jewish camp, and we want to make sure we remove all of those barriers.”
Visit lfcc.org/givecamp if you would like to give a gift to a child that will last them a lifetime — memories, connections, positive Jewish enriching experiences, and a sense of place and home.