by Jenna Resnikoff, Olim Fellow 2015-2016
“I miss Olim Fellows already,” I said last week on the bus home to New York from the final Olim Fellowship retreat at camp. My friends surrounding me on the bus agreed. The Olim Fellowship program is more than just a reason to see your camp friends during the school year (although, who’s complaining?) From the three retreats over the school year and the weekly meetings over the summer, I have learned to become a better leader in camp and the community.
The first Olim Fellows retreat was held in Pennsylvania at URJ Camp Harlam. On the first day I immediately clicked with so many people from other URJ camps. I was surprised how similar all of our camps were. I asked them questions about their camps and got to learn about traditions they did that I thought we could implement into our camp (in a unique Crane Lake style, of course!) From this simple bonding time, I was able to find positive improvements that I could apply to camp and I later discussed them in our small meeting groups. I realized that it’s important to think outside of our own personal bubble (haha, get it?) and start looking from outside perspectives to make camp the greatest place it can possibly be.
Also on this first retreat, Jay Frankl spoke to us about how there are many different types of campers in a bunk, and how important it is to get to know each individual camper on a personal level to make them feel at home. This past summer, I implemented that strategy. I made it my mission to know little details about each camper that I had learned from conversations with them, in order to build my relationships with each of them individually. Once I was able to check my bunk off the list, I moved onto learning about campers in other bunks in our unit. I was amazed by how this small change deeply impacted my relationships with my campers as well as other counselors.
This October, we traveled to Georgia to visit Camp Coleman. Surrounded by foliage in the peak of Atlanta’s autumn, we heard from Brad Cohen, a teacher with Tourette’s syndrome. We watched his documentary about how he used to be teased constantly for his uncontrollable outbursts. The mimicking stopped when he talked to his school principal about educating his peers about Tourette’s. This story in particular stuck with me. He made me realize the true impact of being accepting and welcoming. I want to make even more of an effort this summer to include and support every child at camp, no matter what their background is. I know it will help them to mold their identity and be more confident in their daily life.
During our final Olim Fellows retreat this past month we visited the 9/11 memorial. This was an incredible experience for me. The memorial and museum helped me to see perspectives and images that I had never seen before. We had some time to wander the museum and I ended up in a room full of pictures of all of the victims. Along the wall was a picture of each face and its accompanying name. Some displays on the wall held belongings found in the towers. Each item had its own story and its connection to the victim. I thought hard about each of these are individual’s stories and how they are remembered. This concept stuck with me. I wondered what impact I would make on others and what will my legacy be, as a counselor at camp as well as in my future.
One additional value of these retreats has been the time I’ve been able to spend with the other Olim fellows. Each time we are together is another opportunity for us to learn from each other. Even if it’s repeating the “you do you” expression that our Olim counselors once told us, we seem to bounce ideas and advice off of each other on a regular basis—from how to be better counselors to how to impact camp as a whole to how to be a better person. They are a huge factor of why I’ve grown into the independent and outgoing person that I am today. I’m applying the lessons that I have learned from my camp friends by passing them down to my own campers. I hope my campers learn that Crane Lake is a judgment free place to be your truest self.
I know that I will be a better counselor this summer as a result of the Olim Fellowship, but more than that I have begun to see myself as a leader at camp with the ability to make a greater impact. I hope that the lessons I have learned from Olim Fellows and as a counselor will carry with me into my community beyond camp into the future.