by Marci Soifer

Last week, I got the text I had been waiting for all year. “I haven’t started the SOS yet.” The message was from Helene Drobenare Horwitz, one of my close friends and the Executive Director of Camp Young Judaea Sprout Lake (CYJ Sprout Lake), and the “SOS” is her acronym for the “State of Sprout”, a speech she delivers on the first night of staff week each year.

I worked at CYJ Sprout Lake for eleven summers (2000-2010), and served as the full-time Assistant Director for the last three (2008-2010). There were so many things that I loved about working at camp, but one of my favorite things was the State of Sprout speech. Helene would focus us on important themes like taking a risk or stepping out the of box, tell stories from previous summers or share bits of letters or emails she had received through the year, and remind staff of why we all do this work. Regardless of the year-specific content, the message was always the same: working at camp comes with the awesome responsibility and opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child.

There was always the same refrain woven through – “One madrich (counselor). One chanich (camper). One moment.” Helene wanted the staff to hear directly from her, and to know that she believed that each individual on her team was ready to be someone’s hero.

Year after year, I experienced the ways Helene’s words rang true. The speech inspired me to give 500% every day – no matter what. Camp changed lives, but it was in large part due to the heart and work of the strong staff teams. I was proud to be a part of – in Helene’s words – “the type of village that comes when a group of people come together and live their lives the way we believe the rest of the world should be…[accepting, caring, nurturing, welcoming, respectful, and about making positive change in the world] (SOS, 2019).”

After working at CYJ Sprout Lake for three years, I began to help Helene write the State of Sprout. We would actually plan for it all year—sending each other quotes about leadership and clips about changing the world from movies and TV shows. While I haven’t worked at CYJ Sprout Lake in nearly a decade, I still email Helene throughout the year with ideas for the State of Sprout. And when June arrives each year, I still get a text from her to ask for my help on the first day of staff week. It doesn’t matter how much time has passed since I worked at camp; No matter where I am, or what I’m doing, I still help Helene write the State of Sprout. It is my annual reminder that the responsibility, the power, and the gift of being a staff member at camp is still a part of me. I am honored to be even the tiniest part of the ongoing magic.

While I now work for Foundation for Jewish Camp, and know that many camps are far beyond staff week at this point in the summer, I wanted to share a piece of the State of Sprout 2019. In recent years, Helene has ended the speech with a blessing for the staff. And, as summer 2019 truly takes off, I hope Helene’s blessing for the 2019 summer staff inspires you as much as it inspires me:

“I pray you have the courage to look in the mirror every day and be the person you were meant to be.

That you have the strength to love our campers, even when it is hard. To see past the scratches that life has given our kids to inside their hearts.

That you hear a child’s cry even when it is silent, that you have the patience to listen before speaking, and to hug before anger.

That you share the passion that lives deep inside you to inspire our children that they have the power to make change.

I pray that together we build a bond between every camper and Israel.

I pray that you will find the strength inside to know when to ask for help and know when to give help.

I pray that we build a place free of negativity and full of promise, compassion and inclusion. An emotionally and physically safe place.

I pray that you can see the enormity of the task ahead of you and understand that everything you do and say can shape a child’s life.

I pray that together, we make a difference in this world, one madrich (counselor), one chanich (camper), with one moment.”

From Helene’s words for her staff to yours, may we all have a summer of moments that resonate long after our time at camp has ended.

Marci Soifer is the Director of Operations at Foundation for Jewish Camp. Since 2015, Marci has helped operationalize strategic initiatives and manages organization-wide data and knowledge, including FJC’s Salesforce platform, satisfaction insight surveys, Camp Census, and program evaluation. Her love for camp came from her 19 summers with Young Judaea, several years as the Assistant Camp Director at Camp Young Judaea Sprout Lake, and participation in FJC’s Yitro Program (cohort 1).