Blog  “Creating a Community Built on Strong Values”: Lessons Learned From Olim Fellowship

“Creating a Community Built on Strong Values”: Lessons Learned From Olim Fellowship

By Robin Miller, Counselor and Olim Fellow, URJ Crane Lake Camp


Robin (3rd from the Left) with 3 other Crane Lake Olim Fellows at the Fall Kallah in Atlanta Georgia at URJ Camp Coleman.

Since the age of nine, I have lived at Crane Lake for either one or two months a year. The painted red gate that surrounds the top of camp acts as a barrier, physically separating the outside reality from the dreamlike world created within it. Each summer I spend in this bubble, the sun-drenched passion for camp floods my veins. The passion emerges from my undying love and affection for this place that I’ve called home for so many years. Since Upper Nitzanim I have been waiting for an outlet, waiting for a way to give back, waiting for me to become a counselor. Everything at camp feels too beautiful to be real; it’s irresistibly and insatiably endearing. By creating a community built on strong values and enriched tradition, Crane Lake creates an idealistic and fantastically magical world, giving children the opportunity to thrive and learn in a beautiful safe-haven.

During the Olim Fellowship retreat at Camp Coleman, the other Crane Lake fellows and I had the honor of hearing two incredible speakers: Sandra Roberts and David Long. Sandra Roberts spoke about her experience as the spearhead of the Paper Clip Project– a project that began as way for her middle school aged students to tangibly understand the devastation of the Holocaust. David Long spoke heart-wrenchingly about his son, Tyler Long, who took his own life at age seventeen because of incessant and atrocious bullying. Though they spoke on disparate topics, there was a common message in both eloquent presentations: we need to not only listen to our campers, but we need to hear them.

At camp, we try to spread the message that it’s okay to be different, that in fact, one should strive to be unique. Crane Lake encourages people living in the bubble to be and act as their best self possible. But now, through the advancement in technology–using Facebook, text messaging, and instant messenger–children are more susceptible than ever to being tormented just for being themselves. Crane Lake lets children escape ‘cyber-bullying,’ but as magical as it is, unfortunately, the bubble sometimes lets negativity seep through. It is our job as counselors to add an even extra layer of protection. We must recognize that it does not matter if we are exhausted, if we are having co-counselor difficulties, or if we missed our hour off– when a camper speaks to us, we must listen closely and intently. We must hear what they are saying and we must respond accordingly. It’s not optional, it’s imperative–because for so many campers, Crane Lake is their safe haven, and it’s our job, as counselors, to create that safe space.

Each summer at camp, if everyone does their job right, every ounce of happiness possible surges through the acres of land. Strangers become friends, who then soon become family. Last summer, standing in the Rec Hall with history literally surrounding me, I felt exactly the same as I did in summers past. I may as well have been ten years old again. I was still filled with the same feeling of awe at how a place like Crane Lake could simply exist. That in the midst of such a chaotic world, a hundred acres of land stands still, waiting. Camp waits for us. Through the leaves falling and the snow drifting, it waits–for guitar picking at the picnic tables and dancing in the dining hall and stargazing beneath the dotted sky. During the year, my blood curdles with craving: for the hay yellow mornings and brooding black nights. For the wood splitting, fire building, song singing state of effulgent idealism. My heart aches for these moments, and this yearning pushes me to be the best counselor I can be; to create the same type of moments that my counselors made for me. It pushes me to make magic. It pushes me to listen. It pushes me to hear.

Robin Miller is a counselor and Olim Fellow at the URJ Crane Lake Camp. The Olim Fellowship is a selective two year program for counselors entering their freshman year of college. Fellows participate in three conferences over the course of two years and have the opportunity to meet other fellows from 4 other URJ Camps: Eisner Camp, Camp Coleman, Camp Harlam and Greene Family Camp. During these weekend conferences fellows explore their values as well as enrich their skills as counselors while hearing from experts in the camping industry and leaders in the community. Past guest speakers have included Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism; Sandy Roberts, creator of the Paperclips Project and David Long, featured in the Movie Bully. The Olim Fellowship Program is now in its 8th year and has had more than 500 participants impacting more than 3,000 children each summer.