Are more Jewish specialty camps on the horizon

Building on the success of specialty Jewish camps that opened two years ago, the Foundation for Jewish Camp announced in March that it is launching a second specialty camps incubator. Made possible by an $8.6 million grant jointly funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation and Avi Chai Foundation, the second cycle will launch four new nonprofit Jewish overnight camps dedicated to a specific skill or area of interest, while introducing and integrating Jewish culture.

“The five camps that opened in summer 2010 as a result of the first Specialty Camps Incubator are a notable success,” said Al Levitt, board president of the S.F.-based Jim Joseph Foundation. “They exceeded their enrollment benchmarks by 146 percent in the first two years. They provided a new path to Jewish camp for many children: 40 percent of campers who attended reported that they had never attended Jewish camp before and 66 percent said that they only went to Jewish camp because they were attracted to one of the specialties.” 

Kids go rafting with Camp Ramah Outdoor Adventure. photo/courtesy of camp ramah

Additionally, 74 percent of campers’ parents reported that the experience positively impacted their Jewish identity and 65 percent testified to positive changes in campers’ Jewish knowledge, further aligning the successes of the program with the missions of all three foundations.

The incubator successfully established new business models for Jewish camps by not requiring burdensome capital investment, since the camps are required to use existing properties. It also created a forum to pilot new educational models by integrating Jewish learning with activities that kids are passionate about: the environment, performing arts, sports and outdoor adventure. More than 1,000 children have attended the five new camps to date, with 1,200 projected to enroll for summer 2012.

“Specialty camps continue to gain in popularity,” said Levitt. “The goal of Incubator II is to continue the momentum, take what was learned from the first cohort and launch four new specialty camps with innovative ideas in underserved areas that incorporate experiential Jewish learning along with excellence in programming.”

According to the Cohen Center at Brandeis University, 10 percent of Jewish children attend a Jewish summer camp.  The Specialty Camps Incubator aims to attract sixth- to 12th-graders who fall in the other 90 percent.

“Many camp-aged children were missing out on the transformative summers at Jewish camp because they wanted to spend their vacation honing a skill or developing a hobby,” said CEO Jeremy J. Fingerman of the Foundation for Jewish Camp. “The Specialty Camps Incubator allows for these kids to have both experiences in one setting.”

The CFO put out a call in late March for letters of intent.

In related news, the National Ramah Commission announced in April that it had received a challenge grant providing up to $1 million for needed capital expenditures at Ramah in the Rockies, site of its newest camp, Ramah Outdoor Adventure, in Colorado. The camp was created through the FJC’s first Specialty Camp Incubator.

The challenge grant was awarded to Ramah by an anonymous donor, and is the lead gift in a new capital campaign of Ramah in the Rockies to expand capacity to meet growing demand.