Stefan Teodosic is the Executive Director of B’nai B’rith Beber Camp and the Perlman Conference Center in Mukwonago, Wisconsin.
My mentor once told me that you could run camp in a parking lot if you had the best staff. I agree completely and it is the individual staff member, as well as the Jewish community, that make camp transformational rather than merely transactional. Jewish camp staff are the role models celebrating camper successes, providing a supportive shoulder to cry on, helping in activity areas and sitting with our kids during Shabbat services. As a field, we realize the connection between staff and mission delivery and recognize the need for a hyper-intentional staffing processes to ensure successful outcomes. Each year, Jewish camp directors prepare their staff to make the most of these opportunities through intentional year round training strategies.
Most people think of staff training as the week before the kids get to camp, full of bonding, programming and planning. While this week is critical to a good summer, Jewish camps begin preparing their staff much earlier to maximize the potential for a transformational summer experience. The field is at a place where slipping into transactional territory is not an option and we are all working with year round staff training best practices. A cornerstone of these best practices is a strategic, mission based staffing continuum that starts as soon as we wrap up the previous summer! This staffing continuum includes the following phases:
- Staff selection: intentional selection of the best staff includes a cultural fit with the camp and the decision whether a staff will truly be able to embody the mission day to day, as well as experience with kids, specialty skills and Jewish background.
- Expectation setting: expectation setting includes the forms that they sign with their contract and the conversations that you have once they have accepted the position. They need to be explicit and supported by multiple touch points leading up to their arrival at staff week.
- Face to face staff training: staff training week is a wonderful opportunity to take the expectations that we have pre-set to the next level. It is also a time to immerse the staff in the camp culture and bond them as a skilled team around shared goals.
- Evaluation: over the course of the summer, the staff need to be supported and evaluated based on their performance with the goal of continuous development all summer. Hopefully, the evaluations are both informal and formal, with the latter directly connected to the job description, interview process and expectation setting.
The best for-profit companies in the world use similar staffing processes to drive the best product results. We are holding ourselves to the same rigorous staffing standards as we realize that Jewish camping is a critical vehicle for delivering the overall goals of the Jewish community. Our non-profit statuses are just legal frameworks that permit us to not pay taxes based our missions and do not determine the way in which do business, including staff training. Jewish camps operate with a high level of intentionality, we achieve our missions AND we offer our staff a transformational experience as well. They participate in the most impactful, highest skill building, spiritual, life changing job they can do in their formative college years. They positively impact children’s lives and gain skills on par with those acquired in non-camping internship/job positions. They are the key to delivering our mission of world class child care, spectacular programming and unapologetic Judaics.
Jewish summer camps are constantly looking for ways to maximize mission delivery AND differentiate themselves in a marketplace filled with competitors, substitutes and alternatives for disposable dollars. The field has appropriately rallied around the concept that concentrating on the core principals of selection, training and evaluation is the right course of action. Investments in facilities and “wow” programming are important to the success of Jewish camps and I am not advocating for running things out of a parking lot by any means. However, the investments that we make in training our staff each year have the highest rate of return for our campers experiences, our staff development and the long term outcomes that are core to the mission of every Jewish camp.