Discovering the Spark Within

The 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 Classes of Olim Fellows at URJ Camp Harlam

The Olim Fellowship provides first and second year staff with the tools and guidance to realize their potential and be the best counselors that they can be. The Fellowship’s motto is “changing the world one bunk at a time,” and staff who participate truly learn how to do this through year-round kallot (retreats) where they learn from top-notch influential leaders and share with their counterparts from five other URJ Camps. In their second summer these Fellows also serve as mentors to our Machonikim (counselors-in-training), creating a culture of fantastic camp counseling.

Below are personal reflections on the Spring 2013 Kallah from two of our current Olim Fellows:

by Kara Hoffman, Second Year Olim Fellow, currently a Freshman at the University of South Carolina

As the Second Year Olim fellows came together for the second time this school year in Kunkletown, Pennsylvania, we all had the chance to evaluate ourselves and our own sparks. Whether your passion is physical, psychological, or emotional every participant- first and second years alike- took some time to recognize what brings us the most happiness. Sparks ranged from teaching to athletics and from l’dor v’dor to politics. Personally my spark is a combination of passions that all resulted to being categorized under l’dor v’dor, generation to generation. No feeling is more satisfying than watching a child, or anyone, realize his or her potential and make a decision that is going to affect his or her future. Supporting people through the hard times of their lives when they are forced to make those vital decisions is critical to me. As camp counselors we do this every day as part of our job, but after the summer is over and life returns to normal there is nothing that brings me more happiness than helping others achieve to the best of their ability.

Not only were we able to reflect upon our sparks, but we also had the opportunity to discuss how we are going to help our campers discover theirs. Kids return to camp year after year in search of friendships and a love that can only be experienced in a camp environment- an environment where no one has to worry about being judged and where you can be anyone you want to be. We begin going to camp for the activities that are rare and cannot be done at home, but it is years later than the activities are not necessarily why we love camp, but the people we do them with. The secrets shared and the memories formed are all part of the greater camp experience, and along the way kids discover what they truly love. Whether their spark is camp, a certain activity, or something unrelated entirely-it is all part of the journey. It is our job as counselors to do everything we can to help our campers, our unit, and our co-counselors to discover their spark.

Second year Olim fellows recognized the connection between this kallah and our last that was held at Camp Coleman. Sparks are personal and are a large reason for why a person is the way they are. Last kallah we focused heavily on the individual and what one person has the capability to do. The two are easily connected because our sparks become our motivations to create change or to accomplish whatever it is we set out to do. As second years were reminded and as first years learned, camp is a journey experienced by the individual. We often see a bunk of 12 or a unit of 40 and sometimes we forget that each camper is their own person and each camper has their own likes, their own dislikes, their own sparks. As this summer nears I urge you all to not forget this, to not forget why it is we return to camp each year, and to not forget your own spark along the way.

by Gabi Hersch, First Year Olim Fellow, currently a High School Senior in Fort Myers, FL

“Would you be interested in the Olim Fellowship program?” Andi Solomon, Senior Assistant Camp Director, questioned as my interview drew to a close. All I knew about Olim Fellowship was that it was a two-year commitment to working at camp.

“That’s what it is, right?” I asked.  That is when I found out about participation during the year. There is a fall kallah for the second year fellows and a spring kallah for the first and second year fellows. Fellows from multiple URJ camps participate including Coleman, Harlam, Greene Family, Crane Lake and Eisner. Being involved in NFTY, news of more conventions was exciting. I knew right then that I wanted to apply.

Last weekend was the Spring Kallah for the Olim Fellows. Camp Harlam hosted, and I was not sure what to expect. From inspiring and informative programs to getting to know counselors from other camps to camp meetings, there was a ton to take away from this event.

Two programs specifically come to mind when I think of the activities I participated in. I really enjoyed something they called a ‘Tour-ah Service” where Olim Fellows were split into groups and given a tour of Camp Harlam while having a service and relating them to one another. We all reunited at the time for the Torah service, and we remained all together for the rest of the service.

Another program I loved was inspired by a TED talk. It discussed educating and dealing with children- which related to being a staff member at a URJ camp- and how each child has their own ‘spark’ that if nurtured, will become very successful. We discussed ways we can find our campers ‘sparks’ and encourage them.

My personal favorite programs during the kallah, however, were the camp meetings. There were given times where the Olim Fellows (first and second years) of their particular camp all met up to discuss with our higher staff different topics. I was so motivated by the advice I received from the second year fellows and the interesting discussions held with Coleman’s amazing Director Bobby Harris, Senior Assistant Director Andi Solomon, Assistant Director Alex Glass, and Nadiv Educator/Program Director Sarah Beth Berman.

The event was also a big reminder of being at camp. All of our meals were eaten in Harlam’s Chadar Ochel (Dining Hall). At our Coleman table, we even did ‘Nose-Goes’ to determine who would meltz (wait the table)! It was really interesting to hear from many people who attend other camps about their personal camp experiences and to share what we do at Coleman.

Becoming an Olim Fellow is a choice that I am thrilled I made. I am significantly more excited for this summer to begin and to put everything I have learned into action. I know we have incredible staff and this summer will be the best one yet!

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