Photo Credit: courtesy, Foundation for Jewish Camp

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

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

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

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, and these individuals will participate in a Community of Practice for learning and professional development.

Funding will be distributed to support camps’ enhancement of counselor and front-line staff training, aiming to help young adults feel better prepared for their summer responsibilities and providing life-long skills.

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

A select number of camps will also pilot a comprehensive assessment to help FJC develop best practices around policies, procedures, and staffing models for the entire field to learn and grow from.

“This grant makes this exciting and critically important initiative possible,” said Julie Beren Platt, Chair of the FJC Board. “Partnerships like this one with The Marcus Foundation 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 (mental, emotional and social health – ed.) in Jewish communal and institutional life across North America.”

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

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

“It’s exciting to see FJC offering camps much-needed MESH training, services, and support for Camp Directors through the generosity of the Marcus Foundation,” said Tom Rosenberg, President and CEO of the American Camp Association. “I expect it will have far-reaching implications for the entire field of North American camp and the children, youth and adults it serves.”

“We are so grateful for this opportunity to bring innovation, excellence, and support to camps across all streams of Jewish belief and practice,” said Jeremy J. Fingerman, FJC CEO. “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,” he added. “Jewish camp can embody how we wish the whole world to be, and this grant represents a huge step forward.”

Founded in 1998, Foundation for Jewish Camp advocates for more than 300 day and overnight camps that provide nearly 180,000 campers and counselors each summer with a meaningful, personal, and lifelong connection to Judaism. FJC is a public 501(c)(3) charitable organization. For more information, please click here.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.