By Rachel Gross Weinstein
The mission of Camp Impact is to provide a week of recreation that emphasizes group and individual activities for children of diverse backgrounds. The hope is to build their self-esteem and confidence, “impact” these children and provide them with a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Camp Impact, which is run by Arlington’s Congregation Beth Shalom, will take place from June 10-14 at Camp Whispering Cedars in South Dallas. About 100 first through sixth graders from various shelters in Arlington and Grand Prairie attend the camp and are picked up and dropped off each morning and afternoon.
This camp is a wonderful experience not only for the campers, but also for the 50 counselors as well, according to director Al Fratina. The counselors are eighth through 12th graders who are members of the Beth Shalom youth group, ARFTY, and the National Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) and some even come from Houston. They have attended five monthly meetings to prepare and train for camp.
“It warms my heart to watch our young Jewish population do so much good for the community,” Fratina said. “Some of these children never have another opportunity to go to camp and are from transient situations. We help raise the spirits of the campers and give them hope. We always get really good campers and I am also blown away by the counselors every year. It’s a wonderful experience.”
Camp Impact has officially been running since 1996 when it was only one or two days. Fratina took over as director in 2002 and expanded the camp to five days.
The day begins at 8 a.m. when the campers and counselors join for breakfast, and that’s followed by arts and crafts, swimming, science and other educational activities, lunch, speakers and more. The last day, campers act out skits and participate in a camp-wide carnival that features water slides, games, a photo booth and balloon and sketch artists. Every child receives a backpack on the last day of camp filled with notebook paper, pencils and a ruler.
Putting on the camp is rewarding, but not an easy feat, Fratina said. It costs anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000 to run it each summer. Camp Impact is funded by donations and each counselor is required to pay $125.
“Our goal is to raise as much money as we can so we can provide the campers with the best experience possible,” said Sam Weiger, a senior at Lamar High School in Arlington who will be a counselor for the fifth time this summer. “We want to make this week the best ever for the them and we have to put in a lot of work to make sure they have a great time, but it’s worthwhile. It’s touching to know that we can affect the lives of children. I always look forward to Camp Impact and it gets better and better each year.”
The bonds he forms with the campers and the other counselors is part of what he enjoys each summer, Weiger said. He also likes sharing with the campers what he has learned from his parents and teachers over the years.
Carly Williky, a senior at Grapevine High School, will be a counselor for a third time this summer. She enjoys meeting the campers and hearing their stories, she said.
She also takes away important lessons and it’s always an eye-opening experience for her, she said.
“The most important thing I have learned is to not take what we have for granted,” she said. “These children have nothing and it’s cool to know that we are able to impact their lives in some way. The best part for me is the camp carnival; some children have never been to a carnival before — it’s fun to see their reactions to it. Camp Impact is amazing and is the best experience I’ve ever had.”
Added Fratina: “All of the counselors do their best every summer to make this camp amazing and they take it seriously. I am happy and pleased to be associated with Camp Impact and fortunate that we have been able to do it for so long. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.”
Camp Impact is still accepting monetary donations and items for this summer. For information, contact Fratina at firstname.lastname@example.org.