By Michelle Zemil, NFTY-STR President 2012-2013
Nearly two weeks ago, I arrived at URJ Camp Coleman. Upon arrival, I got hugs and greetings from old friends and strangers alike. I was nervous and excited for the upcoming weekend, given that it was my first time being on staff at Camp Jenny. Camp Jenny is an annual camp over Memorial Day weekend for underprivileged, elementary students from inner-city Atlanta. It is also NFTY-STR’s and NFTY-SAR’s yearly social action project which we raise money for year round. I was honored and ecstatic when I found out earlier in the year that I was chosen to be a Sports Specialist at Camp Jenny 2013.
On Friday afternoon, the kids arrived and I immediately saw the joy that Camp Jenny brings to these campers. As I carried a 4th grade girls suitcase to her cabin she told me all about how hard she worked in school to get to come to Camp Jenny and how she had to beg her mother to let her come. She did not fail to mention how happy and grateful she was to be there with us. Thats when I knew that everything I had been told about Camp Jenny was true.
As a Sports Specialist, I had the distinct pleasure of being able to work with every single camper throughout the weekend. When I wasn’t helping to lead the sports station, I attached myself to a cabin that I had immediately bonded with- B6A. The cabin had four tween (3rd grade) boys in it and three wonderful counselors. I ate meals with them, walked them to their cabin to say goodnight, and sang with them during each closing circle.
The four boys impacted me most during my weekend at Camp Jenny. On the second to last day of camp, the boys were all very disappointed that they couldn’t play basketball on the basketball courts because it was being set up for the Camp Jenny Carnival. To make up for it, their counselors promised to take them early the next morning. As I walked the boys over to the gaga pit to enjoy their last rotation of sports, one of them turned to me and said “Michelle, will you come to play basketball with us in the morning?”
That’s when I knew I had made a difference. “Of course!” I responded as I tried to keep myself composed. “I would love to.”
The next morning, I woke up and snuck quietly out of my cabin in my Camp Jenny sweatpants and the only sweatshirt I had with me. I was very careful not to wake up the other specialists in my cabin since they didn’t need to wake up for another hour. I nearly ran to the basketball courts, excited to be with the boys again. So, for about 45 minutes, we took turns shooting the ball, passing to each other, and even did a bit of karaoke to some of the Great Gatsby soundtrack. It was great to have some strictly play time with the campers, without having to think about the fact that in just a few hours, they would be off on a bus back to Atlanta.
After the campers left, I ran to Julie Marsh’s arms, along with some of my closest friends. We had a very sentimental group hug, and it was then that she told us something I will remember for the rest of my life. “You have impacted these kids. You have changed their lives. You have to believe in what you do, and you have to know that you have just done something great. These kids will remember you.”
Looking back now, I can see that it’s not just the campers that will remember us. I will remember them, too. Camp Jenny is a community and that community doesn’t just include the campers. After watching this community flourish, intertwine, and learn from one another in a matter of days, I can honestly say that I believe in magic- do you?