Created for Community: Collaboration and Partnership Stories

Nebraska and Kansas Youth Campers to Assemble 32,000 Health Kits for People in Need

Campers of all ages gathered from throughout Nebraska and Kansas this summer, taking part in an unprecedented partnership. The Created for Community Project, a partnership between Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministries (NLOM) and Lutheran World Relief (LWR), aimed to fill an entire ocean freight container with some 32,000 health kits to be distributed to families living in poverty. More than 1,500 youth joined hearts and hands in assembling the kits.

Throughout the summer at Carol Joy Holling Camp near Ashland, Neb., Sullivan Hills near Lodgepole, Neb., and Camp Tomah Shinga at Junction City, Kan., campers assemble health kits as they learn to put their faith into action in service to their global neighbors.

The health kits are destined for Haiti as part of LWR’s ongoing response to the January 12 earthquake that killed an estimated 230,000 and left millions homeless and in desperate need of help. Lutheran World Relief works with Lutherans and partners around the world to end poverty, injustice, and human suffering.

“I am excited to partner with Lutheran World Relief in an effort to educate our campers about being a part of the worldwide community,” said Pastor Brad Meyer, Director for Programs at NLOM. “Campers will learn how each of us is dependent upon one another, and the importance of helping people in need.”

“Outdoor ministry is a perfect venue for this effort because servant leadership is at the core of what campers learn during their church camp experience,” said Brenda Meier, LWR’s Director for Congregation & Community Engagement. “We approached Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministries to consider adding health kits to their summer programs because the agency has an excellent reputation of high-quality programming,” said Meier.

NLOM provides summer camping programs to more than 3,000 children each summer, and serves more than 15,000 retreat and conference participants of all ages annually on behalf of the Nebraska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

“I’m delighted that LWR sought us out with the idea. LWR is a wonderful organization to partner with as they do so much good for so many hurting people around the world,” said Dave Coker, Executive Director at NLOM. “The health kit service project will help our campers connect to their faith in powerful ways.”

A blessing of the health kits was offered during NLOM’s annual quilt auction fundraiser at Carol Joy Holling Camp, led by President John Nunes of Lutheran World Relief and Bishop Dave deFreese of the ELCA Nebraska Synod.

Thanks to Casey Fuerst, Director of Marketing and Communications, Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministries.

Early Childhood Centers and URJ Camps: Let’s Get Together!

Lisa David, Associate Director of Camping, Union for Reform Judaism (URJ)

Rabbi Ethan Tucker, in his “Immersion and Identity” presentation, argues that immersion experiences are central to creating a “radiant core that can inspire an abiding attachment to Jewish identity.” He observes, “the power of immersion experiences…is their ability to generate the kind of intensity required to navigate today’s world Jewishly. In short, they create miniature Jewish societies.”

In the fall of 2009, the professional and lay leadership of the URJ began to recognize that within our Reform Movement we were nurturing two distinct universes of miniature Jewish societies: early childhood education programs and summer camps. These transformative educational experiences had much in common:

Living life in “Jewish time”: celebrating holidays, sharing meals and marking moments based on a Jewish calendar and rituals (many of which were perhaps not observed outside of the educational setting)

Experiential application of Jewish values: creating intentional communities that teach and reinforce Jewish values through role modeling, practice, and processing

Passionate, skilled, and trained Jewish educational professionals: camp and school administrative leadership, teachers, and counselors in direct contact with kids, have extensive training in Jewish education

Opportunity to engage families: Parents are very invested in their child’s educational experience; as the child experiences Jewish ritual and learning, the family can be engaged, as well

Learner experiences Judaism as joyful: Music, play, and fun are all key components of both settings; when experienced in a Jewish context, Judaism itself is seen as joyful, a very important positive connection to make at critical periods of identity development

Building Jewish social networks for students and families: the social connections made can be lifelong, and Jewish social connections are a key predictor of future involvement

Despite these commonalities, little was being done to link these experiences so families could see their child’s Jewish education as an ongoing journey, not an episodic experience. In the summer of 2010, the URJ Camps and Early Childhood professional and lay leadership launched the first ECE-Camp Caravan, held in August 2010 at Olin Sang Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI) in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.

This caravan functioned as a think tank of sorts, with the goal being to develop some creative and innovative ways in which our Reform Movement early childhood centers and camps might collaborate to better meet the needs of Jewish youth and families. Through observation of camp activities, discussions with key community members and our own processing meetings, we discussed and developed a range of exciting concepts and strategies.

Central to our discussion was Rabbi Tucker’s concept of a radiant core, introduced to us by OSRUI Camp Director Jerry Kaye. The concept allowed us to think about models of excellence within each setting, but also prompted discussion about how, within our Movement, there are opportunities for us to link our two settings/cores in order to create an even brighter and more compelling Jewish community.

Wouldn’t it be exciting, we imagined, if we cultivated Tucker’s radiant communities? In radiant communities, educational experiences that are proven to have an impact would be linked through shared human resources; shared educational goals and content; seamless transitions between distinct settings; and, perhaps most importantly, sacred relationships. Participants would experience an early childhood program, camp, religious school, congregational life, family educational experiences and lifecycle events as a cohesive force providing meaning to their lives.

Practically speaking, we discussed many opportunities to “link the silos” of Early Childhood Education and Camping:

  • Connect early childhood day camps to URJ Camps
  • Share program resources
  • Use a URJ camp as a site for Early Childhood programs, such as family retreats
  • How can camp be a model for early childhood curriculum and vice versa?
  • What can we learn from each setting about including parents in the Jewish journey of their child, and encourage them to continue their own journey?
  • What resources might we share between our settings?
  • How can early childhood centers and camps work together to encourage professional development?
  • Share resources and best practices for teaching worship, music, and the arts in a Jewish context
  • Consider any part- or full-time staff that can be shared among settings, providing continuity

These efforts are ongoing, and we’re excited to be hosting two additional Camp Caravans in 2011 at URJ Camp Harlam and URJ Crane Lake Camp for area Early Childhood directors. We will continue to work together to leverage the impact each of these caravans has on lifelong Jewish engagement as we strive to create radiant communities.

Reprinted with permission from Ganeinu, the Union for Reformed Judaism’s newsletter for early childhood educators.

Students and Camp Build One Another

At Mennonite-affiliated Camp Friedenswald each Wednesday and Thursday afternoon, a group of students in an alternative program from Elkhart Central High School (Elkhart, Indiana) spend time building life skills through service work and by participating in a team-building program.

The group of boys has regularly cleaned the dining hall, hauled furniture, built benches, and assisted with various other projects. As they offer assistance with work projects, the camp offers them a place of belonging and helps to build and encourage them as people. The school principal reports that their growth is evident both socially and academically. The camp director notes that the program has been a “win-win” relationship.

Reprinted with permission from the Mennonite Camping Association’s NaturaLinks newsletter. Thanks to Jason Harrison at Camp Friedenswald.