Kadima! Let’s go! Introducing the Kadima Leadership Training Program

  • First in a series about the Kadima Leadership Training Program

    This year, Camp Pembroke celebrates its 85th season, Camp Tevya its 80th, and Tel Noar’s 75th comes up next summer! My grandfather, Eli, who founded the three Cohen Camps, always felt that learning and shared experiences connect Jewish values and history to keep our community strong. In today’s complex world, face-to-face relationships and strong community connections are just as important as in Eli’s day. Camp experiences build these life skills in ways that resonate far beyond camp.

    What’s intriguing is that these life skills are also what the education and business worlds have come to call “21st century skills,” the kinds of subtle, insightful connections that the workforce needs to succeed in a rapidly changing, digital society. Skills like critical thinking and problem solving, communication and collaboration, and creativity and innovation. These can be learned *about* in a classroom, but need real-life applications and hands-on, daily practice to build. Camp is a world away from the day-to-day, and at the same time a place of such intensity and depth that it’s where lasting skills grow exponentially.

    While growth happens every day and at every age at camp, a pivotal moment happens at ages 16 and 17, when teens make that giant leap from camper to leader. Now, we’re celebrating and strengthening that moment by redesigning our counselor-in-training program. Starting in Summer 2020, this will be known as the Kadima Leadership Training Program.

    In Hebrew, “kadima” means “to move ahead” and “let’s go!” The Kadima program will move our teens, campers, and camps forward.

    As campers, children rely on great staff. Counselors are their nurturers, teachers, leaders… their inspiring coaches, and encouraging mentors… the caring role models who lead by example. What makes any camp life-changing is the quality of its staff.

    To ensure great staff, we’ve added considerably more training and professional development in recent years. Interesting fact: The Cohen Camps hire about 30% more staff each summer now than we did in the 1970s and 1980s. That’s because we’ve added a lot more activities and also we – like many parents and educators – are increasingly attuned to the complexities of children’s social and emotional well-being. Being a great counselor is about much more than fun and games: it’s about collaboration, leadership, expertise, experience, maturity, and insight.

    Our most prized staff are home-grown, those who came up as campers and are ready to “pay it forward” just like the home-grown staff did for them. Almost all new counselors tell us in interviews that they want to give campers the experience that counselors had given THEM when THEY were campers.

    Yet you can’t just flip a switch and say to a young person, “POOF! Now you’re knowledgeable, experienced, and ready to handle anything a camper needs, even at 2am.” We need to support and cultivate our young leaders to help them make that transition in ways attentive to their own developmental stage, their love of and connection to each other, and their goals for their own futures.

    Over several years, we have evaluated how to support our teens better. We’ve reviewed feedback from teens, parents, and staff each summer, and studied other leading camps’ approaches.

    Here’s what we’ve found:

    Our previous model, where we train our Dor L’Dor participants in two August weeks for the demanding job of being a counselor the next year, is not as successful as it can be. The last two weeks of camp turn out to be a challenging time for training. The teens are just coming off an intense experience, needing time to reconnect and reflect with their home camp friends after mixing with the other camps in Israel, everyone is a little tired, and the end-of-camp schedule is topsy-turvy with special events.

    On top of that, because of American Camp Association standards concerning how many under-18 staff we can employ, the kids have to compete among themselves for the few available slots. When those few young people who get the jobs come back the following year, they have had limited opportunity to gain direct experience so they spend the first month of camp learning their roles. We know we can do better for our teens and camp communities; this redesign will be healthier for the Dor L’Dor teens, and more effective and satisfying for the campers and staff as a whole.

    Add onto that one more layer: teens going into their senior year of high school would benefit from a very thoughtful, specialized experience. Juggling the race for school and college, we want to help them avoid what health experts call ‘toxic stress.’ Yet we want to deepen their real-life skills and practice in meaningful work that can set them up for success in their next steps in life.

    Beginning in Summer 2020, Kadima Leadership Training will be the post-camper, pre-staff year that offers a real apprenticeship. It will give these teens a way to cement those 21st Century skills that will benefit them as they enter college or whatever they choose to do next, yet in a context that supports their needs for time and friendship as they prepare for senior year, all while serving and supporting campers better.

    Our plan for the Kadima teens include:

    • A strong curriculum in communication, teamwork, responsibility, empathy, & time management.
    • Deep, rewarding experiences in leadership learning, reflection, and mentoring.
    • Sustained Jewish connection while teens are making choices about their futures.
    • The staff and facilities to make this possible.

    We’ll break ground in Fall 2019 for the Kadima facilities: dedicated Yurt Villages at each camp. Each Yurt Village will include:

    • Eco-friendly yurt-style housing
    • A community building with indoor gathering space for about 50 people (which camper activities will also get to use)

    This summer, we’ve hosted several community conversations—we call them S’mores Conversations—with the current Dor L’Dor teens and parents and with current staff, and we have surveyed current and recent staff and teens. Community feedback is helping us answer questions, explore concerns, and deepen perspective. We deeply appreciate the care and responses everyone has shared.

    The three Cohen Camps all ran full-summer CIT programs through the late 1990s; evolution can be both difficult and exciting, but rest assured that we’ve done this before. We’re confident that Kadima will be better for the teens, better for the campers, and better for the future of Jewish camping.

    I look forward to sharing more updates on the launch with the entire camp community.

    Learn more

    If you have any questions about Kadima and what it means for your child, please contact Stacey Smalley, Director of Kadima, at stacey@cohencamps.org. I, Jonathan Cohen, President of The Cohen Camps, also welcome hearing from you at jcohen@cohencamps.org.

    Many leadership donors have already stepped forward to support the building of the Yurt Villages, if you’d like to learn about joining them, please contact Barbara Stevens, Development Director, at bstevens@cohencamps.org or visit cohencamps.org/kadima. There are also naming opportunities for individuals or families who would like to participate in that manner.

    You can reach any of us at The Cohen Camps’ offices at 781.489.2070.

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