Getting Creative

Jo-Ellen Unger (File photo)

Traditional summer camps are known for activities such as hiking, swimming and spending time in the great outdoors. But the new 6 Points Creative Arts Academy in West Chester, Pa., is far from the traditional summer camp.

The program, run by the Union for Reform Judaism, pairs campers with mentors who are experts in a particular field of art. Whether it’s the culinary arts, dance or the visual arts, the academy’s fields of study run the gamut.

Jo-Ellen Unger, Creative Arts Academy director, previously worked in Baltimore as the congregational educator at Har Sinai and said she’s excited to start the new camp this summer.

“While I loved the congregation, this job opened up, and it may sound like a cliché, but this was my dream job,” Unger said. “My congregation was amazingly supportive, because there’s no way I could have done this without them. I’m so grateful to the Baltimore community for the experiences that I had.”

Unger notes that there are some children who go to traditional camps but only want to spend time in the art studio. For each 12-day session (there are three over the course of the summer from late June to early August), campers are able to delve into what drives them creatively.

“We want well-rounded, adjusted kids, but we’re going to let them be immersed in their passion in a Jewish environment,” Unger said. “With the model that we’re operating, you get to choose the thing that you’re most passionate about and what feeds your soul.”

The camp, for children in grades three through 10, is based on the Westtown School campus, a Quaker boarding school. Campers live in dorms and have access to recreational facilities such as an athletic center and a pool.

According to Unger, who has a background in theater, the Creative Arts Academy has been in the works for some time. She started unofficially in November 2016 and came onboard with the program in an official capacity in January 2017.

So far, more than 100 kids from all over the country have registered, and they even have campers from Canada making the trip down to Pennsylvania.

Though the camp is art focused, it has not lost sight of its Jewish values. The academy is run on four pillars: creativity (yetzirah), curiosity (sakranut), grit (ometz lev) and craftsmanship (m’lacha). Unger also says the program focuses on questions important to the religion.

“How does Jewish tradition elevate art?” Unger asked. “And how does art elevate Jewish tradition?”

Each week, campers also take part in Shabbat programs.

“Everyone is part of the experience,” Unger said. “It’s an opportunity for us to refresh ourselves.”

As for being on a Quaker campus, Unger said, “They could not have been more gracious in welcoming [the academy] into their space.”

“They’re excited about us coming; the cultural exchange is really a beautiful thing,” she added. “I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life.”

For more information on the academy, visit 6points

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