Foundation for Jewish Camp has been awarded a grant to explore how Jewish overnight camp nurtures and promotes character development. (photo from jewishcamp.org)
Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) has been awarded a three-year expansive research grant from the John Templeton Foundation to explore how the activities and rituals at Jewish overnight camp nurture and promote character development in adolescent campers and camp staff.
Findings of an earlier landscape survey of current virtue development practices at Jewish camps and a series of interviews with camp professionals identified kindness as the most common virtue camps desire to nurture in their communities. This next phase of in-depth research will focus on understanding how kindness is embedded into the structure of Jewish camp, how character virtues are taught, practised and modeled by camp leadership and staff, and how staff and campers are impacted.
The initial one-year planning grant, awarded in 2021, was used to develop conceptual frameworks and research design and instrumentation. This work included convening thought partners and learning circles to guide the project; conducting a landscape survey of current virtue development practices at Jewish camps; interviewing a select group of 10 camps to learn more about their current practices; and developing the proposal for the three-year study to evaluate the impact of character development practices on the minds, hearts and behaviours of adolescents and young adults who participate in Jewish camp.
According to Rabbi Avi Katz Orlow, FJC’s vice-president for education and innovation and the co-leader for this project, “Jewish camp in North America has a great history of making mensches – a Yiddish term for a person of great character and integrity – but that is not enough. We need to look critically and explore the metrics of character development. With the support of the John Templeton Foundation, we will define where we are headed in this work for the next decade. Surfacing and sharing best practices in character development will ensure we are making our best effort to raise new generations of thoughtful, resilient, caring, community-minded individuals. The world needs mensches now, more than ever before.”
“We want to surface exemplary practices that support young adult camp staff to model and nurture kindness in themselves and others,” said Nila Rosen, FJC’s director of learning and research. “Our research will allow us to learn with the camps and develop additional resources and practices to elevate emerging and promising character development at camps across North America.”
These resources will expand on FJC’s Making Mensches Periodic Table – the resource bank for camp staff and educators to engage in the work of character development, whose popularity served as the basis for this inquiry.
FJC has selected five camps that are intentional in their construction and cultivation of a culture of kindness in their community. These camps will conduct a thorough exploration of how that shows up in their staff selection and training, relationship building, camp rituals, peer-to-peer support, professional development, branding materials, camp artifacts, signage, or explicit language used by leadership teams.
Dr. Richard Bollinger, senior program officer of character virtue development at the John Templeton Foundation, said, “We are excited about the potential impact of this project because spreading kindness within a community can create ripples of a ‘pay-it-forward’ nature that extend far beyond the initial kind actions. Along with the hundreds of thousands of campers, families and staff who participate in 300+ Jewish camps across North America each year, we are eager to share and learn with FJC and the field.”
– Courtesy Foundation for Jewish Camp