110 Years & Still Going Strong
Early summer is my favorite time of the year because it marks the start of camp. It’s a time for kids to come together, make new friendships, try new experiences, and enjoy being kids. After a year where kids spent their days inside, in front of computer screens or iPads, they need some much-needed fresh air.
For the last two years, I have served as the President of the JCC Chicago Women’s Board and summer camp is a prominent topic for us, and it has been since its inception. In the early 20th century, over 100,000 Jewish immigrants, primarily from Eastern Europe arrived in the near west side of Chicago. They desperately needed to acclimate to America and learn the language, how to read and write. In 1911, a group of prominent Jewish women formed the CHI Women’s Club. These women would get kids out of the city to breathe fresh air, eat good food and partake in various outdoor activities. In 1921, Camp Chi for girls opened at Loon Lake in Antioch, IL. The CHI Women’s Club personally funded this camp and served as counselors. Thirty years later, the JCC purchased the property in Lake Delton and Camp Chi became co-ed. This is just a snippet of what these women set in motion.
Fast forward to today, while our name has changed, the Women’s Board goals remain the same. Our focus and mission continue as we raise money for scholarships to send kids to camp along with contributing to the JCC community through volunteering. Three years ago, we started the “Imagine That” grant. This grant is offered to all JCC Chicago camp directors through an application process and each year, they submit a new innovative program that can be used for their camp and possibly shared with other camps. I love this part of our commitment to the J. The innovations are remarkable, and the directors are amazing leaders who come up with outstanding ideas. This year we’re excited to grant Apachi Rogers Park a new archery and Outdoor Adventure Center for its campers. This follows awarding Apachi Northside, Apachi Old Town and Apachi Hyde Park an Outdoor Peace Room last year and creating an Israeli Village for Camp Chi in 2019. It’s heartwarming to see a diverse range of programming that enhances our campers’ lives.
I am grateful to work alongside a group of women, consisting of grandmothers, mothers, teachers, attorneys, doctors, accountants, entrepreneurs, financial planners, to name a few. These are the prominent women of today that are working to provide scholarships for families in financial need. While times have certainly changed in since 1911, we are still getting kids outdoors to do a variety of activities and breathe fresh air. But today, our camps are also about inclusion, getting along in a social media world, learning to communicate without a phone and listening to points of view different from our own.
As a parent of three, each of my kids have spent time at a JCC Chicago camp. The memories they’ve made and friendships they’ve created will last them a lifetime. Being able to give them that experience was so important to my husband and I, and I am grateful to help give other children in our community that same opportunity. JCC Chicago’s Women’s Board is constantly looking for ways to move forward in our efforts to make camp a memorable experience and benefit the lives of children. I know I wouldn’t be here without the women who’ve paved the footprints before me over 100 years ago and I’m proud to say their work is still going strong.
Karen Sperber is President of JCC Chicago’s Women’s Board and a member of JCC Chicago’s Board of Directors. The JCC Chicago Women’s Board is a dedicated volunteer organization with an ongoing legacy of financial commitment, providing annual scholarship assistance to eligible campers at all JCC Chicago Camps. Karen is a graduate of Loyola University of Chicago with a Finance degree. Upon graduation, Karen spent 17 years at the Northern Trust as a Vice President, in both the Banking and Trust Department. Since leaving Northern Trust, she has dedicated her time to everything kids. This includes the programs at JCC Chicago from camp to preschool to innovative program development through the “Imagine That” grant. Karen is also active in other charities including, Helpusadopt.org, which she is a Board member. Karen was also on the Board of Trustees of North Shore Congregation Israel, as well as the Religious Education Board and the Chair of the preschool committee for Gates of Learning Preschool. Karen and her husband Marc, have three children, Jake 26, Joseph 22, and Sophia 19. They reside in Northbrook, Illinois.