By Bobby Harris
“And the seasons they go round and round, the painted ponies go up and down, we’re captive in a carousel of time. We can’t return, we can only look, behind from where we came, and go round and round and round in the circle game”
-Joni Mitchell “Circle Game”
As I prepared to address the community at URJ Camp Coleman last month, the scene flooded me with decades’ worth of memories. See, it wasn’t my first time addressing the Coleman community.
In October 2021, I became Foundation for Jewish Camp’s 1st Southeast Regional Director. This past month I was invited to represent FJC at Camp Coleman where they were hosting a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open their new Courageous Warrior Course—the longest course of its kind in the world. (Yes, perhaps Camp Coleman will now find its way into the Guinness Book of World Records!) The spectacular new addition was initially made possible when Coleman received a grant as part FJC’s Competitive Edge program which provides training and financial support for Jewish overnight camps to plan and implement new specialty tracks within their traditional camps. Coleman was also fortunate to receive a matching local grant from Lauren Spanjer-Bricks, who had been a longtime Coleman camper and staff member in the 90’s and early 2000’s.
Prior to the ceremony, Lauren and I stood at camp, reminiscing about 30 years prior, when we had first met in 1992. At the time, I had recently become Coleman’s 3rd full-time Camp Director and Lauren was a camper in our youngest unit. Lauren is now the Co-founder and CEO of Ipsum Diagnostics. In the summer of 2020, she started thinking seriously about philanthropy and reached out to me about giving back to Camp Coleman, a place that she says “profoundly impacted” her. Initially her family foundation made an annual commitment to support 20 children who otherwise would not have been able to attend camp. A month after donating the scholarship funds, Lauren’s family reached out with the idea of adding a Warrior Course to Coleman, which eventually led them to donate to create the new Adventure Camp specialty track.
This summer Lauren will joyfully be returning home to Camp Coleman to volunteer in the Arts Center. Her children will also attend as 1st time campers. The three of them and hundreds of other children and staff will have the pleasure of climbing on the new Spanjer-Bricks Courageous Warrior Course.
As I stood at the dedication ceremony, taking in all the beauty of that moment, the gorgeousness of camp, and the incredible new additions, I gazed over at Lauren and remembered when she and her friends used to stand up and “turn round and round and round,” singing Circle Game as their closing song. It was definitely a Full Circle moment.
It was also full circle in another way. For the first time, I wasn’t at Camp Coleman in the capacity of camp director. Instead, I was there representing FJC – the organization that, with Lauren’s family, made this moment possible. Since joining FJC I have come to appreciate, at a deeper level, the innovative spirit and hard work involved in enhancing the field of Jewish camping Were it not for the funding behind Competitive Edge, Coleman and the other participating camps would unlikely be able to make these great strides forward.
On that day, Coleman had an Open House and I watched as children of all ages were climbing, jumping, and running through their brand new, world record setting Courageous Warrior Course. It was wonderful to see the excitement in their eyes, and to know that 22 campers had signed up for Coleman Quest—the new Adventure Camp that the Coleman team created.
In the beginning of this project, I was a camp director, thrilled to receive the Competitive Edge grant—so fortunate to find a local donor to support it and be part of the camp team that was committed to helping Coleman become even better. Almost a year later and I was back, honored to be cutting the ribbon with Lauren Spanjer-Bricks to officially open the course. It was the first time in 30 years that I entered the campgrounds as a guest. It was the same place—but I was seeing things from a different perspective. Time moved on, and I realized I, too, had come “full circle”.