Mark Kirchhoff, for the JCC
It’s new this year, and to hear the leaders of tomorrow talk about it today, it is a resounding success for them, for the counselors, and most importantly, for the K-3rd grade J campers. The Leaders-in-Training (L.I.T.) Program is playing a significant role in making this happen. L.I.T. is for teens in grades 8-10 who are looking to grow as responsible leaders. In the process, they are gaining confidence and a sense of self-worth that will stay with them long after the 2016 J Summer Camps are over.
Presently there are seven burgeoning leaders selected for L.I.T. Three of them are entering 8th grade and four of them incoming freshmen. The 8th graders are Julien Fishepain, Eric Olsen, and Jordan Raffel. The freshmen are Clare Fixley, Noah Monzu, Ciaran Rochling, and Michelle Tsvid. Many of these young leaders have participated in camps at the J for a number of years and several of them have known each other throughout this time. All of them have “aged out” of the usual summer camp programs. Each teen was interested in pursuing the new program after learning about it from brochures, mailings or word of mouth.
“I have participated in summer camps at the J for six years and really liked it,” Eric said. “I thought that maybe I will like this program even better. Now I know that it is a great program.” The program requires an application and a commitment to a full two-week camp session, after which the L.I.T. participants may sign up for an additional session. At the close of a session, the young leaders are presented with a certificate of completion and documentation of community service hours for school. Acceptance into the program also required a successful interview with Rachel Martin, BBYO/Teen Director for the JCC. “Rachel asked us what we thought it meant to be a good camp counselor,” said one of the “junior” counselors. Several others explained that they were asked what they would be bringing to camp that would add to its success.
“We were also presented with different scenarios and we had to explain how we would handle each one of those,” offered another. The group agreed that the interview was an important part of being accepted to the program. One of the L.I.T. participants had interviewed for a job before (he got it); another said that he enjoys public speaking and the interview was another form of that.
A review of the schedule for these young leaders shows a day that is jam-packed with a variety of activities and responsibilities. The day begins with a morning meeting at 8:50 a.m. then progresses as follows: Boker Tov/Flag Circle; Learning Session: Child Development; planning Shabbat or all-camp activities; leading art/team-building; Lunch; leading a song session; swimming/sports; leading an activity with K/1st grade; Learning Session: Safety; Selah/Group Reflection; Flag Circle; help with camper pick-up, departure. Monzu, who has been a frequent camp participant, remarked, “I didn’t ever notice how much work goes into it [conducting camp programs].”
When these young leaders were asked to say one word to describe the characteristics of a good leader., the words flowed with amazing ease and sincerity –“ engaging, caring, authoritative, organized, righteous, just, strong, positive, responsible, respectful, safe, and enjoyable.” An impressive list indeed and it would be a great challenge for a group of adults to develop a better list on the spur of the moment than what these kids did. “We learn a lot because Rachel is a great leader,” said one L.I.T. member. “The team-building she leads with us really helps us get to know one another better and to work together as a group.” “We like each other,” offered another. “We also have two Israeli shlichim, Noa Vaknin and Sharon Segal, who came for the summer just for these programs, and they are really good.” Still another comment: “Noa leads songs and dances, and some of them are Israeli and some are from different cultures including German.”
The group explained how activities for the camp are divided into categories such as art, cooking or sports. They brain-storm possible activities and write them on the white board. They then form small groups for discussion before deciding on which activities they will do. “It is really good that we do it this way, because we come up with activities so that all of the campers participate – everyone is included in one of the areas they like best. That is really neat.” “It’s also good that we work with the counselors [there are always two counselors working with one L.I.T.] – sometimes there are activities or games that we know better than they do, so we can really help there.”
There is also time for correction and redirection when the counselors meet with the group. “We like spending time with them, because this is how we are learning.” One of the things that is evident from the feedback in these meetings is the positive atmosphere they produce and the joy these young people have in participating in these programs. There is an agreement in the group that it is best that they are working with the younger campers. “I think they look up to us – we are taller of course – but they also look up to us as leaders. I think if we were working with the older kids, they would think that we are the same and might not see the difference in what we do and what they do.” “It is really cool that these camps are done with the input from us and from the counselors. We really feel like we are important to what happens.” “I’m learning that leadership is a cooperative effort. No one knows all the answers but together we come up with some really good things.” “We learn how to interact with people of different ages.” “We mature more.” “I like that I can use all of these hours as community service hours when I go back to school.” “I might want to be a counselor – how old do I have to be to do that, Rachel?”
It is at this point in the article that objective journalism ends. Rachel Martin: congratulations on having the vision to create this program. Counselors: congratulations on carrying it out and making it a success. From my 29 years of experience at Father Flanagan’s Boys’ Home I have been privileged to participate with hundreds of young people in a variety of settings. This group of young leaders ranks in the very top of any other group I have ever experienced. To all of you, I admire you, what you are doing, and know that you will take what you learn and experience this summer into the future. I am confident you will be great leaders – publicly or privately or quietly with your own families some day. Thank you for spending your time explaining this program to me and for allowing me to share the story with the readers of the Jewish Press.