Sunday, June 23, 2013

Camp isn't just about the campers!

 by Donna Schwartz

Jessica & Eden back in the day
About a month ago I boarded a plane from Philly to Ft. Lauderdale excited to be going to a wedding of a close friend. Close is probably an understatement. See I met this beautiful young lady when she was five and I was 15. It was the summer before my sophomore year in high school and she was in my very first camp group at Camp Maccabee. I was a young Junior counselor and she was a nervous first time camper.  I immediately connected with her and the entire group of 5 year old girls. I remember getting paid something like $300 for the entire summer but it didn't matter, I was having a blast.  One day at pick-up the camper's mom asked if I babysat as they were new to the area and were looking for someone to watch their 2 & 5 year old on an occasional  Saturday night.  Since my summer wage of $1.35 an hour wasn't cutting it, babysitting seemed like a good way to supplement my income. What happened next changed my life.  I met the entire family and fell in love. This family of 4 became my adopted family. They treated me as if I was their 3rd daughter and I loved them for it. Fast forward a lot of years, I'm still really close with this family.

All of us at Jessica's Rehearsal Dinner
As I reminisced with all of her friends at the wedding each one of them told me how many memories they have from those years at camp and they were surprised to hear how much I remembered as well.

As camp directors, we look at a variety of factors when matching counselors with groups: Personality, age, compatibility with co-counselor, etc.  I'm sure Pattie, the camp director back then never thought "hey let's put Donna with this group of 5 year old girls so that she can make a family friend for a lifetime."

We always talk about all the reasons why children should go to camp but I think we should be talking about why teens should work at a camp also. There's nothing like the friendships we make during the hot summer days.  The bonding that happens while singing silly songs and covering yourself in paint to signify your loyalty to your color war team is unmatched by any other work experience.  As camp directors it's our job to teach young staff how to be a good employee. We teach them responsibility and work ethic.  For so many young teens this is their first employment opportunity and the things we teach them will be with them for a lifetime. A teen who is willing to work very hard in the hot sun with campers hanging all over them while ensuring their safety will make a great employee in the future. You're welcome big corporations of the world!

Most camps around the country are starting this week. Welcoming campers and getting ready to make memories of a lifetime. Take some time to get to know who is spending the next 8 weeks with your child, you never know if they'll be part of your family for the next 20 years.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

New languages offer a new way of being

“There’s this boy who recently moved to the United States from Latin America and he’s facing some challenges. I would like for you to meet his parents and offer some help",  a good friend and preschool teacher told me the other day.
 “Tell me more…give me an example", I replied. 
“Well, we were speaking about bedtime and when I asked about his, he didn’t respond", she told me concerned. I tried to explain to her why this boy might not know the significance of “bedtime".
“You see, in many Latin American countries, there is no such thing as a “bedtime” or “story time” or even “time out”. The boy might not really know what you are asking him, because he might just go to bed when he is tired, or whenever his parents believe the time is right". I looked at her with a big smile, as I reflected on all the cultural differences I had to face when my family and I moved to the U.S. 15 years ago and learn a new language. Still, after 15 long years, cultural shocks are part of my daily routine. 
Some of the things I had to adapt to were in many cases unexpected, and with them came new words which brought new meanings and overall, a new me. Here are just a few: 
          Being invited to supper at 5:00 p.m. Dinner is supposed to be at 9:00 p.m. or later…anything earlier is a “merienda” (snack time); or the word supper itself. I hadn’t heard the meaning to that word until moving to the U.S.
          Story time, time out, or bedtime... what do these things even mean? we didn't have them in our family over there.
          Being told the time a party starts and the time a party ends. In the world I come from, that’s considered rude. Parties last until people feel like leaving...No set beginnings and no set endings. Just go with the flow
          Waving or nodding politely instead of kissing someone on the cheek when you greet them. In that world it is extremely rude, but in the U.S., it’s courteous! 
          Walking into a room and not being able to just interrupt any conversation with a hug, but waiting until I’m being noticed...
          Requesting from people not to bring birthday gifts and instead make a donation. I love giving and receiving  birthday gifts, why can’t I bring something?
          Teachers are not encouraged to hug their young students with passion or sometimes even sit them on their laps, while in my world that was a way of showing affection and expected from a teacher.
          Not opening gifts as soon as you get them on your birthday or opening all the gifts in front of everyone -  I was taught not to do any of those! you open the gift as soon as you get it in front of the person who gave it to you.
          Sending thank you notes - never!  Instead, giving a hug and thanking someone on the spot.
          Youth soccer leagues make everyone a winner no matter what the final score is. How are kids supposed to learn how to compete, if everyone always wins? 
          Not having your doctor available whenever you need them. Where I come from, the doctor can regularly come to your home! 
          Brunch on Sundays.
          … And the list can go on forever. My personal list grows as I learn of new things everyday. 
So far, I’ve lived in seven different countries and I made each one my home.  My world is always expanding as I discover new words, those words are new customs and traditions. I’m still trying to invite my American friends to “pasear” with me which is common for me, but I can’t find the exact word in English, as people here don’t “pasear” (walk around for the pure sake of walking, visiting places just to visit.) While this is true in Spanish, English has no such thing. Instead, I must use a long sentence to express my desire to go on a walk and visit places just to visit. Likewise, I can’t find a Spanish translation for the words “accountability” or “fund-raising” unless, once again, I use a lengthy descriptive sentence. 
Words and languages create cultures, and as you learn a new language, you unleash a new “way of being.” Often I see people who are multilingual showing different personalities depending the language they are speaking at the moment, as if each language carries a different personality  with it.
While at the beginning I had no clue what a bedtime was, I have learned to incorporate it into my own life and even used it with my children sometimes. I’ve also learned how to eat dinner earlier and attend and even host Sunday brunches from time to time. There are things, however, that my American friends have learned not to expect from me, among them waiting to open my gifts or sending them a thank you note. On these occasions, my Israeli and Latin spontaneity are emphasized more than ever. 
Bottom line: it’s crucial to understand where the other person is coming from in order to make sure we are really communicating. The words we speak reflect the realities we are parts of and each reality provides different meanings. “What time do you go to bed in general?” is a universal question, everyone sleeps. “What time is your bed-time” is cultural, not everyone goes to sleep at a pre-determined time. It’s something worth thinking about in order to cross boundaries when we talk to someone who comes from a different country or background.
Learn a new language and your world is guaranteed to become boundless, as mine has become over the years. New words with new meanings become new habits, and that’s how you adapt and make every place home. It is like going to a new restaurant and trying a new dish. It’s a new flavour that you have discovered and has now become a new option you never knew before.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

It is None of Your Business…or Is It?

During Memorial Day weekend, I had the opportunity to escort the Israeli Scouts (Tzofim) on their summer camp. This was my daughter's first sleep away camp experience and I was not about to miss any of it.  I still remember the strange looks of other moms questioning my sanity and why I would put myself (voluntarily) on a bus with 40 loud kids for a 9 hour drive to Camp Ramah in Ojai, CA.  But for me, it was all about being there for my daughter and (subconsciously)protecting her from any harm that might happen to her while she was away from the safety of home.

Remember the movie "Finding Nemo"? Remember how Marlon, Nemo’s father, wouldn't let him out into the world out of fear? Well, I was the Marlon in this scenario.

To make a long story short, I had noticed that my daughter was making efforts to become friends with a few girls that didn't seem to want her friendship. While my role as a chaperone parent was very clear to me which was "only help when you are asked to" and "leave it all to the counselors", I still couldn't resist whispering in my daughter's ear that maybe she should be re-directing her efforts in getting to know other girls who might have been nicer to her. 

Day two, I kept on noticing that even though my daughter seemed to enjoy herself, she was, at times, by herself observing the others.  Again, I felt I should be advising her (and then later advising the counselors) that she needed to become more part of the group. It didn't take too long for the other kids to notice that there was an overprotective mother there who simply couldn’t let go.  

The next day, I was called for a serious conversation by my 10 year old daughter, who gave me a tough but much needed lesson. She said.. "Mom, I know you are trying to help me but you are being over-protective and I am really fine". In other words…it was none of my business. With tears falling down my face…I kissed her and told her that she was right and that I would stay out of her way. The following day, I kept myself busy with hiking at beautiful Camp Ramah and finished reading a great book. When I decided to go and "check on the kids", I saw my daughter happy with her team and surrounded by friends.

Seeing your child hurting is a painful experience for any parent. Seeing your project at work (your "baby") getting off track is painful too. At times, we are under the false impression that we have the power to fix the world. While "Tikun Olam" is precisely about fixing the world, we need to understand that there are situations where letting go is the right thing to do.  As managers, how many times are our employees are asking us to solve a problem, and we feel that only our intervention will get the problem solved? When we do that on a regular basis, we interfere with our employees’ ability to take care of business themselves. We increase their dependency on us, leading to a vicious cycle where we are always needed.

What I learned in Camp Ramah was that "Growing pains" are not only physical but emotional too. Sometimes, the real growth and development comes from experiencing a challenge and overcoming it. People are by far better off solving their own problems and sticking to these solutions long term. Even when our guidance is being asked, sometimes a "it’s not my business – it’s yours" mindset is the right guidance for a team.

So, who do you need to tell (kindly, of course) to mind their business? 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Chicken or the Egg

So, which comes first: the money or the mission?  “Why, the mission of course” you answer ever so confidently.  

But are you sure?

Let’s think about this.  How many of you have had a really, really, really good idea for a new program, project or maybe even a whole new nonprofit organization?  I see a few hands going up back there in the audience.  Good for you: idea first.  And then what happened?

Maybe you went to the Board of your JCC or Federation.  Maybe you went to the program chair, the executive director, your puppy.  And what was said to you in response to your really, really, really good idea?? (Woof does not count here)  Great idea! Go find the money and we will move right ahead with it.

What happened next?  My guess is that you stuffed that really, really, really good idea right back into your brain and said something to yourself like “I will do that just as soon as I win the Lottery”.  And you might have even gone out and bought three lottery tickets to insure that you would be able to implement your really, really, good idea.

I work with a lot of nonprofit organizations, both Jewish and non-Jewish.  And I hear a lot of really, really, really good ideas.  I teach classes on building and running nonprofit organizations and I hear a lot of really, really, really good ideas.  And I always say, “What a really, really, really good idea!  How are you going to pay for that?” Now I have many students who say to me “my idea is soooo good that G-d will provide” and we will be up and running very soon.

And to them -- and to everyone else -- and to you, too -- I say “NO MONEY – NO MISSION!”

Raising money, most folks say, is NOT EASY.  I think that is because those same folks are thinking “Let’s do a wallk/run” or “Let’s do a big gala” or my personal favorite “Let’s do a golf tournament”.  And believe you me, this is NOT the way to get that really, really, really good idea funded.  Special events fund raising is time consuming (how many of you have spent 21 ½ hours stuffing goodie bags?), volunteer draining (did you know it takes approximately 932 volunteers to run a run?), dependent on the weather (did I tell you the one about the monsoon over Virginia Beach during our Great Dig for Cystic Fibrosis?), your region’s calendar of special events (I know you checked to see what was happening in the Jewish world that day, but did you know that the Foodbank, Habitat for Humanity, Special Olympics and the American Cancer Society were all holding events that day?  Didn’t think so.  Did you know that it is really, really, really hard to raise money for a special event if you have no major sponsors to cover the expenses and all of your participants are participating somewhere else? (But more about the raising of major sponsors in a later blog)

It is really, really, really quite simple.  The best way to get your really, really, really good idea to become a reality is to begin at the beginning and start to build some really, really, really good relationships with the folks in your community who have three attributes: 1 – a philanthropic soul, 2 – the money to do something with that philanthropic soul and 3 – a wonderful group of friends/acquaintances/business buddies who love and trust them.  And that is where the money for your mission will best be found.

So, next time you have a really, really, really good idea, read my blogs! Because over the next few months they are going to be full of ways to raise money without the worries, stress, aggravation or hassle, or as we would say in Yiddish, all the tsuris!