A Foot In Both “Camps”
I have worked in Early Childhood education for 25 years, the past 8 years at JCC Chicago, which has been a highly creative and fulfilling labor of love. So, naturally my team and I got creative when we needed to go virtual this past spring. Teachers made home visits to families, social distancing at the end of the driveway, and keeping the human connection beyond the screen. I provided weekly school wide Zoom Havdalah and Shabbat celebrations, and our detailed newsletters gave parents resources to support their needs at home. Our end of the year virtual Siyum Ceremony had our largest attendance ever, with participants tuning in from around the world. Families that may not have been able to attend in the past were now able to join the celebration!
At the end of the school year, I was given the opportunity to take on an additional role at JCC Chicago, as the Camp Director of Apachi Village Northbrook. Not surprisingly, some of my fondest memories growing up are from spending every summer at camp in Michigan, from nursery school through high school. My 3 kids all attended JCC Apachi day camps and Camp Chi, and to this day, many of their closest friends are from those remarkable summers. Given my background, I felt uniquely qualified to lead both programs—essentially putting a foot in both “camps.”
Unlike the end of the school year, camp would be held in person. Educating ourselves on current best practices in health and safety, my team prepared our counselors to welcome back campers face to face. And then the first day of camp arrived and children were literally jumping out of their parent’s minivans and SUVs. They were with friends again! Our enthusiastic counselors gave campers love and attention. Days were filled with sports, dancing, sprinklers, theme days, art projects, Maccabi Games, entertainers, Shabbat spirit and so much more.
Sheer joy was in the air! During drop off and pick up, parents expressed how happy their children were at camp and how appreciative they were that the JCC Chicago programs were up and running. The summer passed without one counselor or camper contracting Covid 19. No one wanted it to end, and families have already begun signing up for 2021.
Our new school year has started again, and we are back to in-person learning. Having seen firsthand the successful experience at camp, I was confident the transition to school would go just as smoothly. And in fact, it has been even better than I hoped. The children and teachers are eager to be together. It is wonderful seeing friendships forming and hearing laughter on the playground again!
As a Director, seeing the continuing growth of kids over the summer who were in school with me over the year is an unexpected highlight. And for the children, being able to go to school with their camp friends–what is better than that! Being able to experience firsthand how Apachi Day Camp and Early Childhood marry together to create a seamless experience is truly remarkable in terms of the friendships and community that is built.
I feel fortunate to be a part of both the JCC Chicago Early Childhood and Apachi Day Camp leadership teams. There are so many rewarding parts to my job. I work with committed professionals in a Jewish environment and I spend my days providing care for adorable young children. Our Special Friends Shabbat, Siyum Ceremony and other school events may be virtual again this year, however, that does not make them any less meaningful. If anything, I appreciate JCC Chicago’s commitment to providing community connections between school, camp and families. #attitudeofgratitude
Director, JCC Chicago Early Childhood at Am Shalom
Director, Apachi Village Northbrook
Jody has been at the J for 8 years, starting at Bernard Horwich JCC before becoming the Director at JCC Chicago Early Childhood at Am Shalom in Glencoe and Camp Director of Apachi Village Northbrook. She lives in Glenview with her husband Ron, and they are the proud parents of 3 amazing children.