Friday, October 07, 2022

Tracy Levine did not have the ideal overnight camp experience, which she attributes to not attending the right camp for her. That is why now—as Director at One Happy Camper NJ (OHCNJ), a program of The Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life—she works tirelessly to help families find the right camp fit for their children.

She first experienced the camp search process as a parent in 2009 when she searched for her daughter, Julie. After several camp visits, she knew they had found the right camp and Julie has not looked back since. Now approaching her seventh summer, Tracy says this experience has been the most significant one in her daughter’s growth and development. She has formed lifelong friendships, met incredible role models and, as a happy and independent teen, describes camp as the place she can be her “best self.”

It is this experience with her own daughter that led Tracy to her current role as Director. Now in her fifth year at OHCNJ, she serves as a community resource to connect local youth with the right sleepaway camps or teen programs. With summer fast approaching, she offers some helpful tips for first-time campers and parents.

· Think about how to get sleepaway camp into the summer mix. Camp is a wonderful opportunity for kids to take a break from technology and enjoy the beautiful outdoors. They can try new activities and gain independence while making new friends. Many camps even offer short-stay introductory or rookie programs, with a growing number offering shorter session options to accommodate the busy schedules of today’s kids.

· Involve your child in the process. From reviewing brochures and videos—even Facebook or Instagram pages—and speaking with other families, engage your children with the camp search process. Don’t choose a camp simply because a friend goes there. Always focus on the right camp for your child.

· Talk with and meet the Director. They are available to you throughout the camp search process (not just during the camp season). It is important to ensure you are aligned in approach and philosophy, as directors truly set the camp tone.

· Visit camps whenever possible. It is ideal to visit camps during the summer and see them in action. The next best options are spring or fall open houses or programs at camp. There are many spring events coming up. Be sure to contact the camp and plan ahead to schedule your visit.

· Don’t assume cost is a barrier. Camps may offer special discounts for new campers, siblings, early enrollment, and more. Many offer needs-based financial assistance or scholarships. Do not assume your income doesn’t qualify. Working at camp is another great way to help subsidize the cost.

If a Jewish-affiliated overnight camp is an option, eligible families may receive a non-needs-based One Happy Camper grant gift up to $1,000, which Tracy considered the “best-kept secret of Greater MetroWest” before she came on board to spread the word. Some may be eligible to receive even greater savings through an alternative program called BunkConnect, currently offering 40–60 percent off at a wide array of Jewish camps (for more info visit www.OneHappyCamperNJ.org).

Tracy has worked with hundreds of local families each year and recently awarded OHCNJ’s 1,500th local One Happy Camper grant, for a total of $1.5 million in grants awarded to families of the Greater MetroWest NJ community.

If you reside in Essex or Union counties, please contact Tracy for more information at [email protected] or 973-929-2970. If you live in Bergen County, please contact Melissa Levine—Coordinator, Jewish Camp Initiatives at Jewish Federation of Northern NJ—at [email protected] or 201-820-3978.

As the American Camp Association states, “There’s a camp for every child and every budget.” Tracy and Melissa both believe in this mantra and are excited to help you find your child’s perfect summer.

One Happy Camper NJ will be hosting a free, informational “Coffee & Camp” parent event in West Orange on 4/29 at 8:30pm at the home of the Hammerman Family on how to choose the right sleepaway camp. It’s perfect for parents thinking about sleepaway camp now or in the future – it is so beneficial to start the process early. Tracy will also have information available about camps serving our area and financial incentives for camp. It is a free event and all are welcome. RSVPs are appreciated for planning purposes at www.onehappycampernj.org/coffeersvp.

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