At the beginning of November, I was given the opportunity to travel to Liverpool, England where camp professionals from various places and backgrounds gathered for a transformative experience at Camp Collab – a global camp staffing conference. This event was an intimate conference with about 65 camp leaders, from around the world, who came together to explore innovative strategies, share success stories, and delve into the latest trends in fostering an engaged and positive workplace. I feel grateful for the opportunity to oversee our summer staff hiring and gained a new perspective on my role thanks to Camp Collab. 

Throughout the conference there was a series of captivating keynote speakers who shared their insights on the importance of staff engagement. Leaders in the industry spoke on topics such as the evolving role of leadership in the digital age, the impact of workplace culture on employee satisfaction, and the importance of mental health and creating a safe environment for everyone. I was also able to attend breakout sessions and ask specific questions on how to better the staff experience at Greene Family Camp. I was taught different programs to lead during both leadership and staff week and how to continue staff engagement throughout the summer.

One of the highlights of the conference was the interactive panel discussions, where past and current Camp Leaders (this is the program we use to bring our international staff to the USA) participants had the chance to answer our questions directly. Panelists shared their experiences at camp, how they felt when they were arriving, and how we can better serve international staff as camp directors. In Summer 2023, we welcomed 26 international staff members from 7 different countries through Camp Leaders- the biggest number of international staff (outside of our Israeli Mishlachat) we have ever had at GFC. As we continue to grow our international staff program this year, this conference helped me gain more insight on how to better integrate these new staff members into our community and support them throughout the summer- leading to more meaningful programs and relationships.

The impact that this international staff had on our camp community this past summer was magical. Our campers and domestic staff had the opportunity to learn about so many cultures, while we also had a chance to show-off our version of Jewish sleepaway camp. In our Niviim unit, campers had an evening program where they ‘traveled’ the world. Counselors made passports and stations for all of our represented countries so that campers were able to learn about music, food, clothing, and more at each ‘stop’ in their adventure. In our S’ganim unit, Tori, who is from the UK, planned an evening program for her unit- Teatime with Tori. Campers were able to enjoy tea and hear about life across the pond. Outside of planned programs, everyday interactions also led to organic moments of learning, as we all worked and engaged with each other as a community. 

A moment I am especially thankful for, even more now than before, was when one of our international counselors, who is not Jewish, approached me towards the end of the summer. He wanted to share his gratitude for the experience of coming to GFC, especially of being welcomed so warmly and allowed to explore the Jewish moments of camp at his own comfortability level. After spending almost 9 weeks with us, this staff member had a whole new perspective on Israel and the Jewish people- even sharing that his favorite moments from camp were during Shabbat. 

As the Camp Collab conference came to a close, I left with a renewed sense of purpose and a wealth of knowledge to implement this coming summer. I loved being able to connect with other camps and see how they are creating a safe and inclusive environment for their participants, both camper and staff. Camp Collab was not just a one-time event; it was a catalyst for change, sparking a movement toward better staff engagement across camps around the world. As we enter into the season of gratitude, I want to thank Camp Collab for allowing me this opportunity, our campers and their families for continuing to entrust us as a safe space for the Jewish community, and our staff, from near and far, for being your authentic selves and creating the magic this is camp. 

Happy Thanksgiving and Shabbat Shalom,
Shira Karp
Assistant Director