The benefits of summer camp, according to camp directors


By Michael Vyskocil

How many children attend camp each summer? According to the American Camp Association, 14 million kids and adults go to camp every summer. To understand why summer camps are so popular, several coordinators and directors from area summer camps reflected on how going to camp helped shape them into the adults they are today.

Alicia Berlin
Alicia Berlin (Courtesy of Berlin)

Alicia Berlin

Director, Camp Louise

Who would have thought that a terribly home-missing, 10-year-old camper would make it through a summer … and the next 40 years at camp? Yup, that was me in 1980. After one of the nurses called my mom and put me on the phone with her — which is not how it’s done today — my mom said I had to stay. I am beyond grateful that she did, even though I know she cried to my dad that they should pick me up right away. I can confidently say that I would not be the person I am today without camp.

Through the past 40 years, I have learned how to step out of my comfort zone and try something new — even as an adult. How can I talk about our three-level incredible Adventure Park — which is great for everyone else but definitely not my thing — if I hadn’t tried it out for myself? On a Friday night, when the entire camp was folk dancing in the gym, up I went with the support and guidance from our amazing outdoors staff.

I have learned about the importance of community. Camp people are like none other and they truly become a second family. They are there in good times and bad and not just for the two months of the summer. I remember as a camper being allowed to call one of my camp friends after 9 p.m. on a Sunday when the rates went down just to stay connected. How lucky are we today that we can stay in touch so easily?

Most importantly, camp gave me my family. I met my husband, Neil, who grew up at Camp Airy and now works full time as our director of operations at camp, and we are so grateful that our three daughters have had the wonderful opportunity to be at camp every summer literally since they were born. What an amazing gift! Thank goodness that my mom did not pick me up early from summer camp 40 years ago.

Ally Feldman
Ally Feldman (Courtesy of Feldman)

Ally Feldman

J Camps Coordinator, JCC of Greater Baltimore

I was a camp kid growing up. I spent the school year counting down the days until summer began. I imagined myself sitting on the big yellow bus rocking over the bumps on Mount Gilead Road on the way to the former Camp Milldale — and sweating off the sunscreen I had slapped onto my face that morning.

Each camp day began and ended in the same way. Camp staff members would greet me with big smiles and a friendly “Hello, how was your morning?” As a camper, the second that I stepped off the bus, I was already learning about what it meant to be a leader and how to be a good friend. I immediately felt a wave of empowerment from being part of an inclusive community that was so much bigger than I was.

Camp taught me that it is cool to try new things like eating pizza that baked in the hot sun and wearing your craziest pair of pajamas. I learned that the more glitter and paint you have on your body for color war the better and that you are never too old to come to work on a Tuesday in a tutu.

Ally Feldman as a child at camp
Ally Feldman as a child at camp (Courtesy of Feldman)

I never spent a summer without J Camps. As I got older, I followed the hierarchy and became a CIT, junior counselor, senior counselor and then a unit head. A large majority of my senior year of college was spent traveling to different job interviews. In late April 2019, I got a call from Emily Stern, senior director of camping at the JCC of Greater Baltimore, letting me know she had a full-time job opening on the camp team. From the moment I walked into that interview, I knew this was the place I wanted to be. I knew it was a job where I could make a difference and better myself. I could not imagine spending my summers without camp.

As a camper, I always looked up to my counselors and specialists. Now that I am a leadership member, I look up to the campers. The campers have taught me so much, but above all else, they have taught me resilience, strength, hope and kindness. They are a constant source of energy and light during the craziest of camp days. As a kid, I used to count down the days until summer began. Now I find myself doing that as I sit in the camp office year-round and attend meetings to make sure each summer is the best one yet. I am already counting down the days until June!

Rabbi David Finkelstein
Rabbi David Finkelstein (Courtesy of Finkelstein)

Rabbi David Finkelstein

Director, Camp Shoresh

I came to Camp Shoresh at age 19 to work as a camp counselor. My brother was the director, and my mother persuaded him to hire me. I was going to Johns Hopkins at the time studying for a master’s degree in business. I remember calling home and telling my parents, “I think I want to change career directions. I want to become a rabbi and work with kids.”

I just loved every part of the experience. One of my responsibilities was to say prayers with them, and I helped the kids through their prayers. I was so taken by a young boy’s interest in Judaism — he stayed up all night listening to a recording of a prayer and wanted to do a good job at praying it.

I learned a key thing: never to bring to camp any negative things that happened to you the day before. If you come in and say, “I’m great and everything is wonderful,” then the kids can really mimic your mood. I always tried to come in with a positive mood.

Camp is the most positive, wonderful connection for kids. Camp is where kids thrive. Camp is where kids discover themselves, learn skills and make new friends. The best thing for me is to go to a bat mitzvah or bar mitzvah, and you see individuals who attended camp together remaining the best of friends.

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