Rachael Speck on August 20, 2019
I don’t have many memories from being 4 years old. Most of us don’t. I remember moments with family, vague recollections about my preschool class, and “doing art” with my sister in our basement. One vivid memory I do have is riding on a school bus for the first time to my local JCC. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing on that school bus. All I knew is that I had a few things in my backpack and my parents told me I was going to camp.
My most vivid memory from my time at our JCC day camp was preparing for my first performance in the camp’s song and dance competition. Our counselor’s favorite song was “You Can’t Hurry Love” by The Supremes. She taught it to all of us along with a dance that we were going to perform in the competition.
I cried. I cried because I didn’t get assigned the part in the song that I wanted to sing. Then I cried because I was terrified at the thought of performing in front of so many people without my parents there. It was the first time I had to work through a problem without my parents right there to help me. It was the first time I took a risk and faced a fear of performing in front of others. It also happened to be the first “grown up song” I ever learned the lyrics to. So many firsts from just one experience.
For many children like my 4-year old self, day camp is their very first independent experience. It’s their first bus ride, their first swim lesson, their first friend, their first time to try a new activity and so many more. How lucky am I to be able to provide kids with such meaningful “firsts” like the one I had as a 4-year old at day camp. Day camp is the beginning of the journey to becoming independent. It can create the foundation needed for successful longer-term experiences away from home. I am in a position where I get to create those unique experiences for children in our community.
Camping has been an integral part of my life for 20 years. Camp allowed me to develop my own sense of self. It led me to choose the university I attended, it led me to a 10 year (and still going) career in the Jewish community, and most important, it led me to find my husband. We even got engaged at camp! In just a few years, I will be the proud mother sending her child to day camp for the very first time. I look forward to experiencing that moment alongside so many other families in our community.
Through my previous experiences in camping and Jewish communal service, I have worked with hundreds of families and young adults as they develop their self- identity and grow into leaders within their communities. I have seen first-hand the impact our programs have on children and young adults. Our after-school program, Clubhouse, provides a “home away from home” for kids in the afternoon after a long school day. After school programs play a vital role in having a strong and vibrant Jewish community. According to a recent study conducted by the Afterschool Alliance, 89% of adults overall agree that after school programs are important to their community. Nearly 9 in 10 adults think children should have opportunities outside the school day to explore topics that interest them, try out new things and gain skills like communication and teamwork. At Clubhouse, we do just that. With innovative programs like “Clubhouse Gets Healthy” and “J Days”, we provide a structured, fun atmosphere for the children of working parents. We provide parents with peace of mind knowing their children are in a safe environment. This is something I am very proud to now be a part of.
The work we do is critical. Whether it’s our after-school program, Teen center, family programs, or any of our day camps, we give children some of their first opportunities to develop their true sense of self. This concept will carry on as the foundation of everything we do. In my new role as Children, Youth and Family Director, I will continue to look for new ways to evolve and strengthen our programs and services so that we are best meeting the needs of our families.
In the Children, Youth and Family Division, we prepare kids for life’s journeys through connections, values, growth and fun. I am excited, honored and humbled at the idea of continuing to nurture children, young adults and families in this community through amazing experiences. I look forward to getting to know your family in the coming weeks and being a part of your child’s journey.