By Sarah Atkins, Michael Soberman and Michael Pink
On May 14th we marked the 72nd anniversary of the creation of the modern State of Israel, and it was also the day in 2020 that we had to communicate the difficult decision not to open our camp’s gates for the first time in 77 years. For our entire camp community, this was the beginning of a challenging period, a time of heartbreak for campers, parents and our staff.
The cancellation of camp was devastating for all the reasons we have come to know, but one concern we had from the onset was; how would the cancellation of camp impact our counselors, who we value as part of the Kadimah family?
Enter Dr. Robert Astroff, a long time camper and staff member at Camp Kadimah and his wife Dorete who are the co-founders of ASTROFF, which specializes in developing aspiring individuals for university admission and career advancement.
Robert elaborated on the impact of counselors not being able to work this summer. He explained: “These teens and young adults use the transferable skills gained at camp for applications to competitive university programs and job opportunities starting in the Fall. With the cancellation of camp due to COVID-19, we want to provide them with an alternative mechanism to develop these transferable skills so they can document these experiences and skills on their resume and university applications.”
Robert and Dorete initiated a conversation to ask if Kadimah would be interested in having Astroff run a specialized program over the summer for our camp staff to equip them with some vital skill development that they would be missing out on by not working at camp for the summer. This would be a customized workshop building on a framework that they have successfully implemented for other organizations.
Astroff saw this as an opportunity to give back to the community that was so formative to Robert’s growth and development as a professional and as a person. Kadimah saw it as an opportunity to provide value to our staff during the camp summer that wasn’t, and we could help counsellors fill the COVID-19 gap on their resume.
Beyond Robert’s connection to Kadimah as a Maritimer and camp alumnus, we found the program appealing given the founders’ expertise in mentoring students toward career success. Having suffered a significant financial blow because of the cancellation of camp, we were not in a position to invest financially in this wonderful opportunity, nor did we think asking the staff to pay for the service was a good model. Astroff offered to run this program pro bono as a pilot and donate their time and expertise.
Astroff started by surveying the camp counsellors to learn what they wanted the program to cover and then tailored the curriculum to their specific needs and career aspirations.
The program provided participants with a unique approach to document and articulate past experiences (including camp-specific experiences and the role camp plays in an individual’s professional development) that are valued by admissions and hiring committees. In addition, Astroff provided participants with a toolkit for identifying strategic steps to take in the coming academic year.
Each staff member was also paired with three successful professional mentors from Kadimah’s pool of accomplished alumni. This provided the staff access to leaders in their field of interest from within our community in a very personal way and allowed them to build relationships that would help them in the future.
We had 24 staff participants and over 70 alumni engaged in the program that concludes at the end of August. The feedback from the staff and alumni has been overwhelmingly positive and the Astroff program is one to be continued in future years, hopefully back at camp, where they belong!
Jeff Wolman, CEO of Wolman Wealth Management Inc. and Board Member for the Foundation for Jewish Camp, and one of the distinguished mentors who served in the program, described it as follows: “The Astroff program is on the vanguard of creating mentorships that provide a vehicle for current Jewish leaders to help nurture and guide future Jewish leaders.”
Enthusiastic feedback from the participants echoed Wolman’s sentiments. One counsellor shared: “Every step is helping me with not only paving my future and learning how to better prepare for important opportunities but also how to build an effective conversation, [and] how to use my past experiences.”
The Steps Forward
Camp Kadimah and Astroff thoroughly enjoyed this partnership of turning the challenges brought on by COVID-19 into opportunities for counselor advancement and growth. The skills the staff have developed as well as the connections they have made will undoubtedly help them in the future. We believe they are now more connected to our greater community and are better equipped to continue on as our fantastic camp staff when they return to camp, B”H next summer.
Sarah Atkins is the Director of Camp Kadimah, a 77-year-old Zionist summer camp located in Barss Corner, Nova Scotia, Canada. Michael Soberman and Michael Pink are the Co-Chairs of Camp Kadimah, both of whom spent many summers there as campers and on staff.