Love of Jewish summer camp led St. Louis native to become camp co-owner

On Dec. 15, Jodi Sperling and St. Louis native Mitch Morgan became owners of Camp Kingswood in Bridgeton, Maine. Morgan attended the J’s Camp Sabra throughout his childhood and teenage years and then worked as a counselor and eventually, assistant director.

BY ERIC BERGER, ASSOCIATE EDITOR

When Mitch Morgan was growing up in the Brentwood School District, he was one of two Jews.

The other was his younger brother, Sean. 

“Kids would ask us if we were ‘Hanukkah,’” Morgan recalls and laughs.

He met his first Jewish friend at the Jewish Community Center of St. Louis, where he attended day camps. That led him to the place that changed his life: Camp Sabra at Lake of the Ozarks. 

“When you talk about ruach, spirit, it’s this invisible thing, and that’s the magic of camp. It has the power to move you. It’s the feeling that you get cheering at the dining hall, the loud song sessions, but also the ones around the campfire. It’s just being with your friends and having a whole other family,” said Morgan.

That experience sparked a lifelong dream that Morgan was recently able to fulfill: owning an overnight summer camp. 

On Dec. 15, he and a friend, Jodi Sperling, became owners of Camp Kingswood in Bridgeton, Maine.

“It’s exciting that it’s us making the decisions, and it’s also really scary because it’s us making the decisions,” said Morgan, who attended Sabra throughout his childhood and teenage years and then worked as a counselor and eventually, assistant director.

Morgan went on to serve as director of Kingswood, which had been owned by the Boston JCC, and as executive director of Pinemere Camp, a Jewish camp in Stroudsburg, Pa.

The Jewish camp vibe also stirred something in Morgan’s brother, who went on to work in the camp world. Sean served as assistant director of Camp Wise in Chardon, Ohio, where his boss was Sperling, Mitch’s new business partner.

“The camping world is incredibly collaborative and open and helpful to each other,” Morgan said.

The opportunity in Maine arose because of an unfortunate development: the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many organizations, the Boston JCC had to cancel camp last summer, which obviously had a significant financial effect on the organization.

The organization decided to focus its energy and resources on its early childhood center and other programs.

Morgan had kept in touch with his former colleagues who believed that Morgan “would take the camp in good hands” and keep it as a Jewish camp, so the organization sold it to him, he said.

Now Morgan is preparing for his first summer as co-owner of a camp. It will be nestled before a beautiful lake at the base of the White Mountains — amidst an ongoing pandemic. 

“Working at camp is an amazing experience that challenges you in ways that you didn’t even expect and gives you things that you never thought it would give you and some of that is being incredibly resilient,” Morgan said. “And if you are going to get through COVID, I want to do it with a whole bunch of camp people because it’s going to make for some really tough conversations, it’s going to mean creating some flexibility, and we are going to have put in guidelines that we never thought we would have to do, but we are going to have fun doing it and still reach our goals and create an amazing experience for people.”

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