Mental, Emotional, Social, and Spiritual Health Best Practices at Camp

Mental, Emotional, Social, and Spiritual Health Best Practices at Camp

The Mental, Emotional, Social, and Spiritual Health Best Practices at Camp Guidebook is for camps looking to enhance their policies, procedures, and training in holistic ways.  

Camps are places where campers and staff come to be their truest self, grow, take healthy risks, and explore. In order for camp to be this place, it has to be a “safe” space for campers and staff – with up-to-date and comprehensive policies, procedures, and training in place to be these safe, supportive environments for all in the community. Mental, Emotional, Social, and Spiritual Health (MESSH) is central to this – directly impacting all aspects of camp, its daily operations and functionality. This resource provides some guidance on best practices to address MESSH challenges in a camp environment for helping better support campers and staff, proactively prepare for challenges and crises, and create a thriving and vibrant community. 

This resource is made possible by a partnership between Foundation for Jewish Camp and the BBYO Center for Adolescent Wellness (BBYO CAW) through the Yedid Nefesh initiative, generously supported by The Marcus Foundation. 

What is this about?  

The Mental, Emotional, Social, and Spiritual Health Best Practices at Camp Guidebook was created to help camps enhance their policies, procedures, and training to better support their campers and staff. Camps will be able to build a framework for responding to issues and proactively prepare to handle and address challenges. 

The Guidebook is intended to help camp leadership:  

  • Analyze current practices 
  • Proactively plan for challenges and better manage MESSH needs at camp 
  • Explore best practices for supporting MESSH at camp 
  • Create effective policies to effectively deal with MESSH challenges 
  • Bridge policy and training to better prepare staff to support campers 
  • Build systems of support for campers and staff 
  • Create a healthy and safe camp environment 

The Guidebook can help camps at all levels address MESSH challenges. Download the entire thing or skip to the chapter where you need the most help and support. 

The Wellness Assessment Tool 

This guidebook was created as an accompaniment to the Camp Wellness Assessment tool. Camps interested in the comprehensive Wellness Assessment can reach out to the BBYO CAW to inquire. 

Call for resources 

We are building a resource bank of sample policies, procedures, and trainings by camps for camps. Think you have a policy or training that other camps would benefit from replicating or adapting? Click here to submit it along with your information to have it reviewed to be included in the resource bank (and please indicate whether you’d like your camps’ branding included on the shared documents or not). We appreciate your generosity to help the whole field of Jewish camp be safer, stronger, more supportive communities. 

Tisha B’Av

Tisha B’Av

What is Tisha B’Av?

On Tisha B’Av, the Jewish people remember the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem. It is a time of mourning for our exile from our political, spiritual, and ancestral homeland. While the Rabbis provide us with several different rationales for the Temple’s destruction, the most famous reason is Sinat Chinam, “hatred without cause.” The desire to respond to that destruction, to engage in repair, is with an outpouring of an abundance of love. This love is something that makes sense in our camp setting.

For so many of us, camp is special because when we come here we get to explore our best selves. Here we try on new elements of who each of us might be or are becoming. Camp is not just a location, time of the year, or even a group of people. Camp is an educational philosophy. Camp is a way of thinking about how we might self-actualize and, in the process, help our campers do the same. Camp is a home away from home. Camp is a bubble away from all of that stuff out there. For many of us camp is the Shabbat of our year.

This year on Tisha B’Av we pause to recognize that many of us feel this Sinat Chinam. Many more people feel at risk. We find ourselves amidst the unending storm of COVID, political upheaval in Israel, rising racism and anti-Semitism, gun violence, war in Ukraine, and shifting of who makes laws about our bodies at home. People feel unsafe, so what can we do?

We need to make sure that everyone knows that they belong. We mark Tisha B’Av with both sadness about our losses and hope that we can learn from our communal mistakes and respond with care and concern for all of God’s children. While we might not be able to cure a global pandemic, end a war, or even change laws or politics, we can make sure that we are sharing what it means to live in an inclusive community that models an abundance of love without cause.


FJC has aggregated resources (some our own, some created by a variety of other Jewish nonprofits) focused on combating baseless hatred. Some of them preach kindness, some look to Jewish history for lessons for today, and some have actionable next steps on how you can effect change. We encourage you to use these resources to enrich your Tisha B’Av experience. 


Belong, By Noam Katz

We are excited to share a music video, Belong, written by Noam Katz in 2020 in memory of Allie Rae Edelsberg z”l. This song highlights the sentiment that “no matter who you are, where you came from, you are here, you are whole, you belong.” We believe this is a prominent theme at Jewish camp that is always relevant. Please enjoy the video, featuring Noam and many friends of Jewish camp, and then take a look at our conversation starters below. 

Where do you feel you belong? How do we make others feel they belong? Here are some conversation starters to dive in a bit deeper:

    • What characteristics make you unique and stand out from the crowd?
    • Where do you feel most seen and/or heard? What can you do to help others feel the same way?
    • Have you ever been made to feel like you didn’t belong somewhere? How did that feel, why has that memory stuck with you, how could it have been avoided, etc.
    • What about camp allows you to feel part of a community? How will you re-create this feeling of acceptance at home this summer and beyond?
Strengths-based Staff Curriculum

Strengths-based Staff Curriculum


Each of us has character strengths that we can leverage to strengthen ourselves, other people, and the world. These sessions are designed to help seasonal staff understand their own strengths, and begin to see how other people’s strengths, which may be different from their own, can be used to make camp a kinder and more nurturing place. This staff curriculum leverages the VIA Character Strengths tool and includes three sessions with additional resources – created by In The City Camps with Dr. Betsy Stone and Ellen Rank.

The sessions focus on three “big ideas”:

  • Each of us has character strengths that we can leverage to strengthen ourselves, other people, and the world.
  • We need to practice personal kindness, and accept ourselves and see ourselves as a work in progress with no end piece.
  • Campers have strengths and we can help them to build/reinforce their strengths.




In summer 2022, headed into the third summer impacted by the COVID pandemic, Eileen Price, CEO of In The City Camps, and Danya Maloon, Camper Care Director of In the City Camps, noticed that (to paraphrase a common term) “the kids were not alright.” Campers and staff were struggling in ways they had not previously seen.

They observed more acute behaviors in campers and staff: less tolerance of distress and reduced emotional bandwidth; reduced capacity to make choices; fewer prosocial behaviors; fewer skills around negotiation and choice-making.

These young people had been through a cultural, generational trauma, and many of them were still experiencing the upheavals and disruptions of adolescences lived during a pandemic.

Danya and Eileen determined that moving forward in their staff training In the City Camps wanted to focus, not on deficits or areas of improvement, but on strengths—interior, deeply unique characteristics that drive all human behaviors.

In the City Camps turned to noted psychologist Betsy Stone, Ph.D., and curriculum developer, Ellen Rank, to construct a strengths-based curriculum focused on emotional regulation; excavation, interrogation, and discovery of self; and strategies to guide staff on their journeys to help campers discover their unique and vital strengths.

This curriculum was created through a collaboration between Dr. Betsy Stone, Ellen Rank, Eileen Price, and Danya Maloon, LMSW, LMAT. In The City Camps and the co-creators are honored to share these sessions for all to access — the edification of Jewish youth is the main goal, just as we know it is yours.

Foundation for Jewish Camp, through the Yedid Nefesh initiative, is excited to help share this resource for camps to adapt and apply across the field.

Please use these documents as they are presented or modify them at your discretion. Feedback is welcome, we would love to hear how your camp adapted and applied these resources!


 Join us for a webinar to learn about this Strengths-Based curriculum for staff. 
Watch the Walk Thru Webinar


La-Bri’ut Program Guide

La-Bri’ut Program Guide

La-bri’ut : To our health and wellness is a program guide created for camp counselors to lead activities for Jewish values-based resilience building.  La-bri’ut is built on five caregiving principles that support healing and resiliency. These five principles are each aligned with a Jewish value so our campers can experience Judaism, Jewish tradition, and their Jewish camp as a framework to help support them over the summer.  The five program areas are: 

  • Sukkat Shalom (shelter of peace) – A sense of safety
  • Ometz Lev (inner strength) – A sense of calm
  • G’vurah (strength/power) – Self- and communal-efficacy
  • K’hillah (community) – Social connectedness
  • Hesed (loving kindness) – Hope attained by reaching out to assist others

Each program helps campers gain an understanding of these values and principles for themselves and their communities through stories, activities, and exploration, all while strengthening their wellness and resilience.  As a community, you will proactively strengthen their mental wellbeing while participating in fun “campy” activities. 

The full La-bri’ut program guide is available for download here:

Download the <em>La-Bri’ut</em> Program Guide here!

Below you will find the programs broken out by value as well as supplemental resources. Your camp may choose to use the entire guide, pick out one value to focus on, or facilitate a single stand-alone activity! 

The FJC La-bri’ut program guide is adapted from The Jewish Education Center of Cleveland’s La-bri’ut Curriculum  with support from The Covenant Foundation. 

The FJC La’bri-ut summer adaptation was made possible through the generosity of The Marcus Foundation as part of the Yedid Nefesh: Nurturing Mental, Emotional, Social, & Spiritual Health at Jewish Camp initiative.


Inclusion Resources

Inclusion Resources

Welcome to the INCLUSION TRAINING GUIDE FOR JEWISH SUMMER CAMPS. Proudly, we see that attention to including campers with disabilities is exploding as a priority across movements, and organizations with interest in overnight camping, day camping, vocational training programs, family camps, and more!

group of campers cheeringFJC is grateful for the generous support of UJA-Federation of New York – Neshamot Fund, and our partner, the Ramah Camping Movement, on development of this guide. The teams at FJC and The Ramah Camping Movement, and many helpful colleagues in the disabilities camping field have worked tirelessly to collect, organize, and bring online the many useful resources in this guide.

It is our sincere hope that this guide will evolve through use and feedback, as a regularly updated, hands-on, online resource assisting you in all aspects of your work with campers with disabilities. Please use the form below to submit comments and subscribe to updates.

Currently you can download the guide in its entirety or by individual chapter.

We would like to offer a list of professionals and other organizations in the field serving people with disabilities. Please complete this form so we can include you and your organization in future updates to this guide.


group of girls group hugging

Whether you are a camp director, inclusion specialist, director of a disabilities camping program, counselor, or activity specialist, there is something here for you! We see this project growing and expanding over time. This first version offers basic information on

  • the history of disabilities camping
  • models of camping for people with disabilities
  • benefits of camping for both campers with disabilities and the typical camp community
  • overviews of various disabilities
  • useful tools for day to day work with campers

We have created this online resource guide to share information and resources which will help you feel more confident in your work with children with disabilities.

  • Camp directors may want to take a look at sections pertaining to inclusive camping for people with disabilities, successful inclusion in Jewish summer camp, inclusive camps, specific disabilities and related activities, communicating with parents, staff training, and people first language.
  • Inclusion Coordinators will find it particularly useful to access certain materials like intake forms, people first language and general information on inclusive camping before the summer, while other materials like staff training (role-plays, sensitivity activities, values based on Jewish texts, and people first language) may be useful while camp is in session.
  • Counselors, division heads, inclusion coordinators, program directors and camper care teams may find such tools as social stories, visual schedules, and tips on managing camper behavior, and speaking to the bunk about inclusion and disabilities to be particularly useful.


Download the Full Guide

group of campers sitting in the grass


FJC is grateful for the generous support of UJA-Federation of New York – Neshamot Fund.

UJA-Federation of New York

This guide was developed in partnership with Foundation for Jewish Camp and the Ramah Camping Movement. FJCRamah Camping Movement

Matan Staff Training Curriculum

Matan Staff Training Curriculum


FJC partnered with Matan to develop a staff training curriculum to use with counselors for both day and overnight camp. This curriculum is meant for your general staff and specialists to enrich their training on inclusion. The core philosophy guiding this training program is that camp works best when it works well for everyone -and that every single person at camp has a hand in supporting a culture of inclusion. Every learning opportunity and strategy covered in this program is designed to enhance the camp experience for all children, both with and without disabilities. 

Full inclusion doesn’t happen overnight. We hope that camp professionals, Inclusion Training Program facilitators, and participating staff members will take on what feels manageable now, and plan to build upon those efforts as time goes on. 

As we learn from Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers), “You are not obligated to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.” Whether your camp has a long-standing program to include children with disabilities, or you are just starting out, we hope you will encourage your staff to explore how they can take the next step, think a little differently, and start to view inclusion as everyone’s job. 



Staff Appreciation Guide

Staff Appreciation Guide

The Staff Appreciation Guide is a resource, developed by SAC, in response to data from the 2023 Staff Satisfaction Insights Survey, which stated only about two-thirds of staff felt appreciated and valued for their work at camp in 2022. These professionals suggest that showing appreciation for staff members, whether a small or large gesture, throughout the summer is an efficient tool to increase staff retention and overall satisfaction with the staff experience. The guide presents ten approaches with supplementary examples that year-round camp professionals and summer leadership can utilize to express gratitude for the efforts exhibited by their staff members.

Professionalizing the Staff Experience

Professionalizing the Staff Experience

To camp insiders, there is no debate around the value of a summer camp counselor experience. However, young professionals with this job included on their resumes are struggling to communicate the skills this position fosters and their transferability into corporate settings. This piece, developed by SAC, dives into the broadness of the camp counselor role and the increasing demand to improve the public perception of this job. Their solution includes a series of specialized internship roles, that can be incorporated into a counselor’s job description for a summer, which will provide a more enriching and targeted growth opportunity within that individual’s field of study or area of interest. They predict that not only will this benefit the staff member’s experience and enhance their resume, but ultimately these investments will reverse the cycle of young staff members leaving the camp community to pursue summer internships.

Aligning Your Sports Program With Your Camp’s Culture

Aligning Your Sports Program With Your Camp’s Culture

Sport at Jewish camp is a complex and dynamic experience for campers. Like artistic, musical,
and other Jewish experiential education experiences at camp, there is a wide spectrum of how
campers and counselors show up at the sports fields. Because of this, it is difficult to find the right
balance of being fun, competitive, educational, and inclusive when designing a sports program
in the context of Jewish camp. Supervisors, sports staff, and camp counselors sometimes lack
the resources, training, and language required to create an all-encompassing sports program
grounded in the camp’s values. These gaps lead to volatile competitive environments, which can
result in poor behavior from overly-competitive campers and disengagement from other campers.
This resource aims to address these issues by exploring how to create a supportive environment
for competition. In this guide, competition is defined as, “The intra/interpersonal dynamics of
winning and losing.” Competition and how it is consumed by children and young adults drives
their recreational sport experience. When used correctly, it can be the tool that develops a new
passions, relationships, and transformative experiences for a camper at sport. Whether your daily
sports program’s main goal is to have fun, catalyze skill development, or to replicate organized
game/league experiences, the aspect of competition is constant and must be attended to.

This resource accomplishes the following:

  • Contextualizes how your sports program should align with the mission of your camp
    by providing recommendations on how to create a program that is predicated
    on healthy competition.
  • Showcases a 90-minute staff training activity for Camp Athletic Directors
    and Heads of Sport to prepare their teams ahead of opening day.
  • Shares best practices and tips for sports instruction and building a sports program.
  • Provides sports-related language and phrases in Hebrew for sport-staff
    instructors/coaches to use with campers.

This guide is intended for the use of camp athletic directors/heads of sports programming
as they prepare ahead of opening day at camp.

Hebrew Slang

Hebrew Slang

Ready to use Hebrew slang like an Israeli? Yalla! Put up these vibrant posters around camp and weave fun Hebrew slang into activities, big and small.

*Access the guide*