Deepening its commitment to supporting the growing complexity of mental, emotional, social and spiritual health (MESSH) needs of camps, the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) has announced enhanced mental health supports for a third group of 30 Jewish summer camps. Building on the success of two previous cohorts of the Yedid Nefesh initiative, FJC will now be extending financial, communal and educational supports to a total of 99 Jewish day and overnight camps across North America.
“Camps are already fertile ground for self-discovery and strengthening confidence, interpersonal skills and resiliency. By creating embedded and sustainable MESSH support systems, we can effect real change in the current childhood and adolescent mental health crisis,” says Jill Goldstein Smith, senior program manager and Yedid Nefesh project leader at FJC.
The Yedid Nefesh initiative launched in 2019 with a generous investment by The Marcus Foundation. Mental health support has been a priority of Jewish camps even prior to the pandemic, which brought exacerbating mental health needs. During the pilot year of the initiative, FJC received more than three times as many applicants as available grants. Inspired by early signs of success, UJA-Federation of New York and the Jewish Communal Fund of New York are sponsoring eight of the camps.
The continued need and demand, combined with the success of the program’s multifaceted approach, led The Marcus Foundation to make an additional gift to the initiative through 2026. This will support an additional cohort of 30 camps and allow camps in the first two cohorts to sustain their work through another year.
“Mental health continues to be a serious issue across our communities. We’re proud of the work we’ve done with FJC through this grant, and the impact it’s already having,” says Bernie Marcus of The Marcus Foundation. “But there is more work to do, more to accomplish, to support the growing mental health needs of our young campers, counselors and their families.”
Each camp chosen for the Yedid Nefesh initiative receives up to $36,500 in direct funding over the course of four years. This investment is used by each camp to hire a qualified mental health professional, provide counselor training, establish wellness activities and develop tools to destigmatize mental health in their broader community. Many of the camps’ mental health professionals gathered for the first time for professional development in person at FJC’s biennial conference, Leaders Assembly, in Atlanta in December. FJC will also be expanding a fellowship piloted last summer for social work graduate students to receive on-the-job experience at Yedid Nefesh camps this summer, building a pipeline of qualified mental health professionals at Jewish camp.
Among the 30 camps of the third cohort are the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center’s Camp Chai and Camp Young Judaea in Wimberley. These are the only Texas camps among the 90 in the program. For a full list, visit https://bit.ly/40bzMOm.