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Growing and Learning at J&R

Abbey Plumb

After two summers at J&R, it’s a place I hope to never leave. Everything there has a special place in my heart like flagpole, the pool, the art shed, the gaga pit and even the steep hill up to the garden and ropes course. However, what makes camp truly special are the children that come every day.

I’ve spent both summers in Shalom, which includes second and third graders. For me, this unit is where I think J&R’s brand of camping – connections, values, growth and fun – really “pops.” I love every minute – watching friendships take root between campers, playing an active role in supporting the children in their growth, and seeing their confidence and independence grow from year to year. So often, my campers surprise me with a unique approach to a challenge or with a funny joke or with their creativity in the kitchen or arts & crafts. I love just hanging out with the kids under a tree as well as witnessing some of their biggest moments – scoring a goal, feeding a chicken, passing a swim test, finishing a project in woodworking, doing the zip line or giant swing, or the first time using the diving board.

I’ve experienced a lot working with the children. It can be very hectic running to activities, trying to get 15-20 second graders changed in time for swimming, and managing three food periods. It is a challenge managing the day-to-day demands while also being present and excited to interact positively with all my kids.

Last summer, I had one child who was having a hard time at home, which resulted in behavioral issues at camp.  She disliked athletics and refused to play any games. To help her, I gave her little jobs to do if she was good. She loved to help pass out lunch, lead the line, and when I swam she would sit out and wear my rings and bracelets. This helped counteract her running away from the group and increased her willingness to participate.

All of my experiences have allowed me to develop important life skills like time management, patience and thinking quickly on my feet. Last summer I was given more camper care responsibilities, such as supervising children who were easily upset, or who required medicine every day, or who needed constant support. I found that talking calmly and making reasonable requests often led to my campers listening better and responding in more productive ways.

One camper sometimes tried to run and distance herself from the group. I learned that she would stop not too far away and I would go talk to her within her own space. Another child needed extra personalized attention was my greatest challenge last summer. He grew attached to me and relied on me all day. When he needed a break, we would take a walk. I swam with him every day and he would accompany me and the other kids to get their medicine.

By working with staff, I’ve become more social and open to create bonds and discover new friendships. When I went to college and had to make new friends, learning how to bond with my co-workers at camp helped me build the openness and social awareness to meet people in an unfamiliar environment. After working at camp, I knew that I wanted to make working with children my career. I’m planning to do a five-year program, where I’ll get my bachelor’s degree in applied developmental psychology and a master’s in education.

My experiences at camp also came in handy when I eventually got my job at Clubhouse, the JCC’s afterschool program. I took a lot of what I had learned at camp and applied it to my new job. I’ve been primarily working with kindergarteners, and testing my newfound management skills and maintaining a calm demeanor front while ensuring everyone is safe and engaged.

Through my experiences, I’ve learned that while sometimes it’s easy to get frustrated, children respond much better to calm and supportive statements. This has helped in other parts of my life. I can get easily flustered; by working at camp, I’ve learned how to relax, even in stressful situations. This has helped me at college; the time management skills I sharpened at camp helped me to avoid stress when I organize my schedule.

J&R Day Camp and the JCC have become like a second home to me. The activities, staff, and especially the children have had such a positive impact on my life. I love when I recognize kids around the city and say hi, and I continue to rely on the friends and personal relationships I’ve made as a counselor. I’m always looking forward to the next summer when I get to go back to camp.

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