Grant to address mental health at Jewish summer camp

The Marcus Foundation has awarded a $3.2 million grant to Foundation for Jewish Camp for supporting mental health across the spectrum of Jewish camps in North America.  

JNS Report

The Marcus Foundation has awarded a $3.2 million grant to Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) for supporting mental health across the spectrum of Jewish camps in North America. 

Funding will be awarded to approximately 60 camps over four years in an effort to increase services, capabilities and awareness in addressing the growing mental, emotional and social health (MESH) needs among their communities. 

The new initiative will be known as “Yedid Nefesh: Nurturing Mental, Emotional and Social Health at Jewish Camp.” Translated as “Beloved Soul,” Yedid Nefesh refers to a multifaceted, whole-person approach to wellness for individuals and as a connected community.

“This grant makes this critically important initiative possible,” said Julie Beren Platt, chair of the FJC Board. “Partnerships like this one enable us to raise the bar of excellence for all Jewish camps. We are confident this new grant will not only have a positive impact on the Jewish camp community, but also will help promote the importance of MESH in Jewish communal and institutional life across North America.”

Camps will be invited to apply this fall to participate in the first of two three-year cohorts.

Each camp will receive a yearly staffing subsidy to support hiring a qualified mental-health professional to be integrated into their camp team; these individuals will participate in a Community of Practice for learning and professional development. Funding will be distributed to support the enhancement of counselor and front-line staff training, aiming to help young adults feel better-prepared for their summer responsibilities.

Tom Rosenberg, president and CEO of the American Camp Association, says he expects the new development to have “far-reaching implications for the entire field of North American camping, and the children, youth and adults it serves.”

Camps in each cohort will also have access to matching grants for integrating wellness programming into activity offerings for campers and staff, such as meditation, yoga, journaling and other options.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 13 percent of children between the ages of 8 and 15 (the prime age range of campers across North America) experience a severe mental disorder, and of those children, barely more than 50 percent receive mental-health services.

Research shared by the  National Council of Behavioral Health reports that 50 percent of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14 and 75 percent by age 24 (National Institute of Mental Health, 2005), the age range of the majority of overnight and day camp staff.

Jeremy J. Fingerman, CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, says “our field has an enormous responsibility to teach children and young adults how to take care of one another, to proactively cultivate resiliency and wellness, and react to the rise in mental-health challenges. Jewish camp can embody how we wish the whole world to be.”