The Summer Camp experience at Louisville’s Jewish Community Center is excellent. Children are eager to return year after year, and many programs fill up completely. Jewish values are incorporated into all aspects of the camp program.
Even wonderful programs can continue to improve, JCC Senior Director of Camping and Youth Services Betsy Schwartz believes. So she turned to the best in the business and applied to the Harold Grinspoon Foundation’s JCamp 180 program for its help in making JCC Summer Camp even better.
The Grinspoon Foundation recently announced that for the coming year, 16 camps have been accepted into the program, and the Louisville JCC is one of the six day camps selected in this year’s cohort.
“The Grinspoon Foundation invests in projects that provide a strong return on investment for the Jewish community,” Schwartz said. “They’re particularly interested in children and youth, so a lot of the Foundation’s granting and programs are around Jewish camping and early childhood literacy.”
Louisville’s popular PJ Library program is a Harold Grinspoon Foundation initiative.
JCamp 180 was established about 10 years ago in response to studies that show that children who attend overnight Jewish camps are much more likely to remain Jewish when they become adults. At that time, the program worked only with overnight camps.
Within the last five or six years, Schwartz stated, research has found that Jewish day camps have a similar positive impact on youth. Three years ago, the Grinspoon Foundation responded by expanding JCamp 180 to include Jewish Day Camps.
Through this program, the Grinspoon Foundation focuses on strategic planning, financial planning and fundraising, technology and use of technology as well as board and lay leadership development.
Louisville’s camp will be assigned a mentor who will devote 10 hours a week to work with Schwartz, Mike Steklof, other camp staff and lay leaders to develop a learning plan during the first year.
Schwartz and Steklof recently attended a conference to learn the details of JCamp 180, including what kinds of funds might be available and details about the kind of mentoring the program offers.
“As a new grantee,” Schwartz said, “we really needed to learn how the program would function.” Schwartz and Steklof encouraged members of the Camp Committee to attend the conference as well, and there was interest among the lay leaders, but there was such a short time between the time the JCC received notice of the grant and the start of the conference that it couldn’t be worked out.
The basics of the agreement are laid out in the brit kodesh, the program agreement, which stresses mutual respect and cooperation as Louisville’s JCC Camp and the Grinspoon Foundation work together and set forth the expectations the parties have for each other.
“After you have been in the program for a year,” Schwartz said, “and worked on some of your basics in strengthening your camp program, you become eligible for some of the funds that Harold Grinspoon makes available to mentored agencies.
“Usually they are matching grants,” she explained targeted to help the mentored agency fulfill the goals in their plan. Grinspoon has established specific milestones agencies must meet to qualify for these matching funds.
“I’m excited about the opportunities and guidance that J-Camp 180 is going to give us,” said Camp Committee Chair Brett Friedman. “Through this mentoring program, the Grinspoon Foundation will help us fine tune and finalize our strategic plan, which will ensure that our camp is the best that it can be. We want JCC camp to have the best programming and activities for our campers and with Grinspoon to help us better market our camp, Louisville will know the great things we have to offer.”
Schwartz is also excited about starting a fundraising program specifically for camp. “We give away a lot of scholarship money,” she said, “but currently it comes directly out of the camp income. We have not done fundraising specifically for camp and it’s not my expertise, so learning how to move forward in that realm and becoming more self sufficient would be great. Right now, our revenues cover our costs, but there are things that we need to do for camp to be more competitive in the Louisville market that we can’t afford because we don’t have capital funds.”
In addition, she is looking forward to building on camp’s current volunteer leadership base and continuing to strengthen it.
“We are a great camp,” she concluded, supported by a community where people remember the wonderful JCC Louisville Day Camp experiences they had as campers and as counselors; they want their children to have similar experiences. The JCC staff wants that too, and “now we will have the resources to make our great camp even better,” says Schwartz.