Camp Wise, 2022 – That’s a Wrap!

Who doesn’t love the glow of the Chanukah Menorah on the 8th night? Full of warmth, joy, and hope, the mighty candles give us strength to face the dark winter days ahead. Whether you celebrated Chanukah, or joined in other faith traditions in your family this holiday weekend, our Camp Wise community wishes you the very best of health and happiness as 2022 draws to a close!

For Camp Wise – 2022 has been a year of change and growth. As a camp’s new director, it’s an honor to witness our community’s love for one another and for our profound legacy. As our Community Care Manager and camp alumnus Amy Kalk says, “there’s a reason we’re at 116 years.” Not a day goes by without someone’s eyes brightening while recalling a memory from the summer or a recent gathering of Camp Wise – the impact runs deep. On our year-round team, Rebecca Copeland, Hannah Mendelsohn, Amy Kalk and I work with pride each day to continually energize this community and further that impact today and refine our approach for the future.

In 2022 – The impact of camp from strength to strength

In 2022 over 475 campers (175 of them brand new to Camp Wise) developed lifelong friendships, independence, and Jewish identity in the best summer ever! Over 600 youth, teens and adults experienced Jewish living in nature at our Camp Wise retreat facilities. This week we’re very proud to register our 450th camper for 2023. More than 80% of 2022’s campers are returning for a session at Camp Wise, SIT or ILS for 2023. If you’ve waited to register or know a friend who wants to join you, don’t delay, enroll today. Some villages, especially Trip II, are nearly at wait-list!

2023 will feature several brand new chugim (choice activities), a camp-wide kindness/mentschlekite initiative, enhanced overnight campouts for every age, and renewed trip experiences for Noar and Solel! Our enduring focus on camper care continues in 2023, too. Camp Wise is a proud recipient of a multi-year Yedid Nefesh grant from the Foundation for Jewish camp (FJC). FJC’s support will help us develop a leadership track specifically focused on camper care, yielding more resources and tools for cabin counselors and staff to care for and develop our campers. Our number one priority is to guide each and every one of our campers as individuals, helping them succeed at Camp Wise.

Camp Wise staff members can’t wait to return!

2023 Staff interviews are off to a roaring start with a majority of 2022 staff members and supervisors applying to return. In 2022, Camp Wise set the high-score nationally for staff experience at Jewish overnight camps with 84% of our seasonal staff rating their experience as “excellent” on staff satisfaction surveys. Our 132-member staff community worked tirelessly to give campers the ultimate experience. The leadership team did their best to create a collective success through a framework of partnership, teamwork, a growth mindset, and leading by example. Our commitment to hire, train, and retain the very best staff members will continue to be a top priority.

In 2023 Camp Wise staff members will again be eligible for the Mandel Myers Fellowship. $4,500 and $5,500 college scholarships and excellent professional development opportunities are just a few of the ways our Cleveland Jewish Federation and Camp Wise community shows support for this important summer work for young adults. We are ever grateful.

Like the menorah – Camp Wise climbs a little higher each summer!

We’ve nearly completed construction on our new double-decker ropes course, climbing walls, vertical playground, giant swing, and twin zip-lines! We are grateful to many families who have stepped up to support this project. If you’re contemplating year-end giving, please consider naming a portion of the new course. Thanks to the Camp Wise community, we’ve raised nearly half of the $400,000 budget for this project. Campers at every level of experience and will find challenges and team-building opportunities on the course, and it will provide an even safer and more thrilling high-ropes experience under the canopy of the beautiful Chardon forest.

The Ropes Course is one of several programmatic and site improvements that are on their way on 2023 and beyond. We’ll share full details on all of this January! Finally, a big thank you goes out to former director, Scott Brown and past-president of the Mandel JCC, Alan Semel who have taken on new lay-leadership roles to guide Camp Wise’s development for the future. So many exciting plans are on the horizon.

Bringing More Light Each Time We Return

Our Jewish sages teach us a vital lesson in lighting the chaukiyah each night for 8 nights to celebrate the miracle of the oil. They could have asked us to burn one giant candle that would last for 8-days, but instead, we must come back to the table each night and bring just a little more light than we did the night before. It’s a good practice, reminding us that in truth, light overcomes darkness.  

Camp is similar– each summer we return to find our truth: the truth of friendship, of our whole selves, of independence, of new skills, of being part of a caring community…and our truth becomes clearer and brighter each time because we practice. We practice outside of summer, too… whenever we reconnect with other Camp Wise alumni or share in a gathering at a camp friend’s house, or attend a camp reunion or program in the winter. Camp Wise impacts who we are and who we will become in ways that brighten our lives and the world around us.

May you and your family have a spirited conclusion to Chanukah and a safe and healthy beginning to 2023.

In peace,

Rabbi Dan Utley