Growing Through the Years with Camp Chi
Recently, I was a contestant in Who Knows One: Camp Chi Edition, which is virtual game of Jewish geography. Participating in this really fun event as part of Chi’s 100th birthday celebration got me thinking about my long-standing relationship with Camp Chi. It’s evolved and grown along with me as I moved from camper to staff to parent of a Chi camper.
My Chi story started when I would attend weekend retreats with my synagogue at Camp Chi. After hearing about how fun camp was from my friends, I finally became a Camp Chi camper in 8th grade. At the time, I didn’t realize my first summer was my Habonim summer, one of Chi’s rites of passage. New friends, activities I couldn’t do at home, camp outs, sneakouts with my cabin and the two-day Canoe Trip all made that summer incredibly special to me. Four of my closest friends today are my camp friends.
As I outgrew being a camper, I became a Chi staff member for Memorial Day and Labor Day Family Camps and synagogue Kallah weekends during my later high school and college years. I enjoyed being at camp and helping others have a good time there so much that that summer after graduating college I signed on as summertime Unit Head, aka Village Leader these days, for 6th graders. Every once in a while, I meet someone who tells me they were one of my campers from the summer of 1998. It always makes me smile remembering all the time spent swimming, playing basketball, participating in great evening programs and celebrating Shabbat each week with those campers. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to help shape someone else’s special Camp Chi memories.
As a young adult, I became a Chi visitor and continued to come to up camp at the end of every summer for long weekends with my wife B.C. (before kids). We continued to do so after my daughter was born. That’s the beginning of my daughter’s own Chi story.
We always knew she would be a Camp Chi camper. Her transition from visitor to camper was seamless and she was even able to give tours to the new friends she made during Try Chi because she felt so comfortable around camp. My daughter established close relationships with her cabinmates , all from different schools around the Chicago area. We had to have two separate birthday parties for her last year, one for school friends and one for camp friends because they mean so much to her. This past summer, when camp couldn’t be held due to the pandemic, her counselor from the prior summer reached out and coordinated get-together sessions in her backyard twice a week for this group of camp friends. Her counselor allowed these girls to have a bit of Camp Chi last summer, even when they couldn’t be up in Lake Delton, WI. We are truly grateful Chi chooses to hire counselors who truly care about their campers. I knew my daughter would enjoy her summers at Chi, but never imagined how strongly she would feel about it. It means so much to my wife and I that she loves a place we love because of her own experience there.
Now I find myself in a new phase as a Chi Alum supporter. I’m excited to be able to give back to camp since camp has done so much for me and my family over the years. As an active participant celebrating Chi’s Centennial through the Who Knows One event, collectively we were able to raise over $5,000. This start is just the beginning for me as I plan to do more as part of Chi’s 100th birthday celebration. I want to ensure Camp Chi is around for the next one hundred years for future generations of campers. They deserve the opportunity to go through Chi’s rites of passage, make lifelong friends, and grow through the years with Camp Chi as I did.
Jess Block has been at Camp Chi as a camper, unit head or visitor every year since 1985. He and his wife, Bonnie, are now the proud parents of two Camp Chi campers. His daughter has been at Chi for the past four summers and his son started his Chi experience with Try Chi. Jess grew up in Morton Grove, attended Maine East High School. graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and now works in healthcare consulting at Syntellis Performance Solutions.