Foundations Mentor Support Camps

Many California overnight camps have philanthropies to thank for their success as enrollment and interest in Jewish camp increases. Programs such as One Happy Camper and the Grinspoon Institute are helping send first-time campers to camp and offering free consulting to the camps, respectively.

“This is a winning product that is creating a more vibrant Jewish future,” Jeremy Fingerman, CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC), said. “When you have a winner, you invest in it. Not only are we doing it, but we are encouraging others in North America to invest in Jewish camp because it works. It creates Jewish leaders, it creates more engaged Jewish adults.”

The foundations are doing more than throwing money at the cause. In an effort to make camps more self-sufficient, they are also helping improve the fundraising abilities of camps by providing financial incentives intended to encourage professional development among board members and camp staff.

FJC has established a number of programs to help Jewish camps across the country, such as leadership training and helping counselors become more effective Jewish mentors.

Perhaps the biggest initiative FJC created is One Happy Camper — an incentive program that provides up to $1,500 in a grant to first-year campers to help them attend Jewish overnight camps. The JWest Program, a subgroup of One Happy Camper, operating in 13 Western states (including California), expects to send about 1,600 children and teens to camp this summer. An additional 8,000 to 8,500 campers will receive the One Happy Camper grant across the nation.

FJC, which is based in New York City, partners with The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles to provide service to California camps. Julie Platt, who serves as both the chair of Ensuring the Jewish Future as well as the chair of the Jewish Camping Initiative at L.A. Federation, said the Federation has committed more than $250,000 to the One Happy Camper initiative for Los Angeles-area campers. That number was then matched by FJC to bring the total to about $500,000, which will help send about 500 L.A.-area campers to camp this summer.

Alan Friedman, the executive director of Camp Mountain Chai, said the One Happy Camper program “had a huge impact on our camp and all of the Jewish camps. By [providing] incentives, Jewish families try Jewish camp instead of something else during the summer.”

Friedman cited others reasons his camp has increased enrollment but said One Happy Camper was a big factor. In 2005, Camp Mountain Chai, in the San Bernaradino Mountains, had about 125 campers. This summer, it expects an enrollment of nearly 525. The Grinspoon Institute helped accommodate that growth as well.

While One Happy Camper sends thousands of kids to camp, The Grinspoon Institute in Massachusetts is helping Jewish overnight camps around the country by providing camp management consulting. The Grinspoon Institute, a group within the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, sends consulting mentors to camps directly to improve the camp’s board of directors, its strategic planning and fundraising.

“What they do is they just don’t give you money,” said Bill Kaplan, executive director with the Shalom Institute. “They make you figure out how to create systems, which is great, so you can do it on your own in the future.”

Kaplan, who has worked with the Grinspoon Institute for several years, said fundraising for the Shalom Institute and Camp JCA Shalom, both in Malibu, has tripled since working with the Grinspoon Institute. Kaplan said Grinspoon also helped make their board more effective and helped with strategic planning for the future of the Shalom Institute.

“They are providing the service for free, which is pretty amazing,” Kaplan said. “I mean, it’s worth thousands and thousands of dollars.”

Grinspoon works with about 80 camps around the country. Mark Gold, the director of the Grinspoon Institute, cited an old expression about helping camps in the long run.

“Don’t give them a fish,” Gold said. “Teach them to fish.”

Gold said the Grinspoon Institute would increase or decrease involvement with helping camps depending on the need of the camp. The Grinspoon Institute also publishes a lot of its advice online through webinars for organizations that aren’t necessarily primary clients.

“If we’ve got secondary clients that we don’t even know about, that’s good, too,” Gold said.

The Grinspoon Institute is in its eighth year and is the brainchild of the successful entrepreneur Harold Grinspoon.

“I owe all of this wealth that I have accumulated to my Jewish genes,” Grinspoon said. “I think I have a responsibility to give back that well to the Jewish people because they are in need of it.”

Although he never attended camp as a child, Grinspoon said that he frequently visits camps around the country during the summer.

“I just love being near all the positive energy,” he said.

The work of these philanthropies has already made an impression on the camps. Kaplan said enrollment at Camp JCA Shalom during the last three years is the highest it has ever been. Kaplan, who first came into contact with Camp JCA Shalom in 1976 as a camper, has seen the evolution of the business firsthand.

“I don’t think camps 20 years ago had development directors,” Kaplan said, as an example. “Now we have development directors.”

The complexity of each camp also has never been higher.

“Camps are running more like a business,” Kaplan said. “There’s more professionalism and more expectations than ever before.”