Tag Archives: FSU Film School

Camp Jenny: How One Weekend Can Change Your Life

I spent this past Memorial Day Weekend eating mediocre food (no offense to those that prepared it…it was what it was), sleeping on essentially a piece of wood and feeling like I was never going to feel or smell clean again but it was the best Memorial Day Weekend ever!

I had the honor and pleasure to participate as a volunteer at Camp Jenny, a 4 day camp experience for students from F.L. Stanton Elementary School in Atlanta on the URJ-Camp Coleman property in Cleveland, GA. I made mention of it in a blog back in February after my daughter had won a film festival award for her documentary, Earning Jenny, about this absolutely amazing program. And as I said then, it was definitely a #ProudMama moment. (If you would like to view the video, please send a request by clicking here. I promise it is worth 7 minutes of your time.)Earning Jenny on Vimeo

So call me crazy but…I thought I really knew and understood everything about Camp Jenny after hearing all of my daughter’s stories upon returning home every Memorial Day Weekend for 6 years…all 4 years in high school as well as after her freshman and sophomore years in college. Seeing her go through the process of creating the documentary and watching the end result?…Honestly, I didn’t think it was possible to get any more emotional about it.

Clearly I was wrong because when the buses pulled up to over 270 screaming teenage counselors and adult staff (yes, that’s 120 more counselors and staff than campers) and those kindergarten through fifth grade kids are just in awe of what is unfolding in front of them, I became an absolute puddle of tears.

Camp Jenny Buses Arrive
My daughter did warn me. And so did all of the Camp Jenny leadership, especially during the 24 hours prior to the campers arrival. They also warned us that many of these kids have never left Metro Atlanta, some haven’t even left their neighborhood and most are more afraid of the woods than they are of the dangerous streets they cross every day to get to school.11329765_911385358903184_5085171261819523805_n

So it was our responsibility to make sure they all felt safe…

…from the time they got off the bus on Friday when many would be crying because they were homesick or simply afraid of the unknown

…until the time they got back on the bus on Monday when they would be crying because they didn’t want to leave after having so much fun or sadly, for some, because of the reality of what is waiting for them back home sets in.

David Haller, the first director of the program when it was established in 1988 and still a very active part of the leadership team, took us through it’s history on the eve before they arived and outlined the four simple yet powerful goals…Camp Jenny GoalsThere is no doubt we set the groundwork to meet #1 and #2 in the years to come. They already have 28 years of documented proof that they have, in fact, not only improved but drastically changed the direction of so many children’s lives, children that insist the days they spent at Camp Jenny between the ages of 5 and 10 gave them the confidence and strength to overcome the odds of growing up surrounded by things like drugs and drive by shootings, get through high school, go on to college and lead very successful lives.10931171_911388795569507_3987769863272336546_n

Think about it…even if one child earns the opportunity to go every year they will have spent a total of 24 days at Camp Jenny over the course of their elementary school years. So what if that one child goes on to get a full scholarship at Stanford and do stem cell research? Yeah, that happened…all because of Camp Jenny. Impactful for sure!10958795_911952175513169_4774674190361311500_n

I grew up never having to think for a minute whether there would be food on the table, clothes on my back and a roof over my head so there is no way I can ever really know what it is like for these kids on a day to day basis.  But I can certainly imagine it and that, of course, breaks my heart.

At the same time, my heart was overflowing with joy as I watched the kids learn something cool about science…

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Climb a rock wall for the very first time and get to the top…11068384_911388475569539_2827727956525761895_n

Participate in an activity about supporting one another…
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Run around on a big field of soft grass…barefoot…in bathing suits…getting soaked by buckets of water…11330047_911389688902751_672817623916480351_n (1)

And learn how to make superhero super muffins and fruit burritos…

11329905_911390268902693_6694378623161610065_nI spent two full days as a cooking specialist and while that certainly isn’t a stretch for me in terms of the skill set required, I really had no idea how exhausting it would be to have one group after another come through the tiny kitchen. I was so fortunate to have 3 younger staff members there to truly own it. They were absolutely amazing with those kids. If you are reading this Lexi, Daniel and Roni…thanks from the bottom of my heart. Even though it took for us to run out of butter for you to believe that the muffins would, in fact, taste better with mashed bananas as a replacement (and essentially cut all of the fat out of them), I think you are all SUPER! That said, remember…#mamaknowsbest 🙂20150523_110627

I would be remiss, though, if I didn’t give a huge shoutout to all counselors who totally brought serious energy and enthusiasm to the activity. I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to get excited about baking powder …but they did…and that filtered down to the campers for sure!

You know what else filters down to the campers? The theme chosen for the weekend. This year it was Be Your Own Superhero. They made it very clear to the campers that you don’t need a cape or a mask to be your own superhero but they certainly looked adorable “flying” around camp in ones made by their counselors and they got to decorate.11377395_911955328846187_2465898647680067151_n

And channeling their superhero powers…WOOSH!

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The counselors, of course, were all about the costumes…

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These are high school kids giving up not only their Memorial Day Weekend but also for a few seniors attending their graduation ceremonies. The co-directors, chosen by their peers via an election at an annual convention for the National Federation of Temple Youth – SAR and STR Regions, work tirelessly all year to make sure every T is crossed and every I is dotted.

Remember the goals above? #3, build a generation of young leaders, is absolutely in motion.

#4 from that list of goals? Improve our own lives? Well, I was on my way to dinner last night when I saw that my daughter had tagged me in a Facebook post. She rarely does that so I was obviously very curious and then cried as I read these words…

One final shoutout to my mom, Beth Blacker for going in my place. It meant so much to me that you were finally able to experience what it’s all about!

If that doesn’t improve a mother’s life I don’t know what will.

Actually, her being there with me next year would be a fantastic improvement. Unfortunately she couldn’t make it this year. She’s in the midst of working on her senior film thesis so college took precedence. Her spirit, though, was definitely felt and I’m thinking my name tag should have just said “Jamie’s Mom”…I can live with that!

Possibly the only thing that could improve upon my Camp Jenny experience and, in turn, my life would be to have my son and husband join me and my daughter and make it the ultimate family affair. I was so jealous of the other parents there with their kids. At various points in time I was definitely “adopted” by them especially these three families and I really can’t thank them enough.20150525_081556 (1)

The mothers all met at Camp Coleman and have remained friends through the years. Their children essentially grew up together despite living in three different cities and all very much embody what Camp Jenny is all about.

Suffice it to say Camp Jenny not only improved, but changed my life. My brain absolutely has not shut off since I left two days ago with thoughts of how amazing it would be if there could be hundreds of programs exactly like it around the country. I know some do exist but I’m hard pressed to believe they have quite the intensity I felt.

To all of those incredible children, I wish you a wonderful summer and best of luck earning the opportunity to be back for #CJ2016. For those that have “aged out”, as announced during the closing circle on Monday, you can return to Camp Jenny in high school as a counselor. So do what I’ve always said to my kids…make good choices and make your parents proud!

That’s it for now…#BlackerOut!

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Call Me Crazy, Great Causes, Life Lessons

#ProudMama Moment … Score One For Higher Education !

Anyone who knows me, knows I have never been one of those moms that brags a lot about my kids, hovers over them like a helicopter or tell them “It’s ok, Mommy will take care of it.”

And I am admittedly a terrible soccer mom…seriously, after a dozen years of watching on the sidelines I still don’t understand when they get a corner vs. goal kick.. Inevitably whenever one of my kids scored or made a really great play I was talking to the mom or dad next to me.

But I ALWAYS remembered to turn the beaters off before letting my kids lick them…score one point for me!

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Anyways, I am a realist and while I certainly wanted my kids to be kids and feel like the world could be at times simply filled with thoughts of rainbows and unicorns, I tried very hard throughout their “formative” years to teach them they were absolutely going to have to suffer through some skinned knees…literally and figuratively.  And trust me, I have, dare I say, “suffered” through the tears and fears right along side them.

But we all have managed to get to the point where my now 21 year old daughter and almost 18 year old son, are just fine. Well, at least by my definition of “fine”.

So call me crazy but when my daughter, now a junior in the Florida State Film School program, tells me that her documentary from last year, Earning Jenny, has won an award for editing at this past weekend’s Black Warrior Film Festival  at The University of Alabama, I’m very proud.

Proud Mama Alert

Couple the award with the fact that the documentary was featured last night at the National Federation of Temple Youth’s (NFTY) Biennial Conference  in Atlanta, I am literally gushing.  You see, I have history with the NFTY program so this is kind of a sentimental thing for me too. I was very involved as a high school teenager through my synagogue in Metro-Detroit and the experiences I had definitely helped shape..all religion aside…the person I am today.

When my daughter was in high school, she too became very involved in her temple youth group which included going to Camp Jenny 3 out of the 4 years of high school plus the past few years while in college. So yes, I’m proud that she took her experiences and turned them into something even bigger while in college.

It is, in my opinion (albeit a very motherly one) an awesome documentary about the Camp Jenny program, established in 1988, which provides 150 kindergarten through 5th grade students from the F.L. Stanton Elementary School in Atlanta the opportunity to literally earn throughout the school year 4 days of a camp experience at the URJ Camp Coleman property in the northern Georgia mountains every Memorial Day weekend. Some of these kids have never been outside of Atlanta let alone spend a weekend away from their parents. This is a really big deal and the kids work incredibly hard to get one of the very precious spots.

So while some may poo poo the costs vs. benefits of higher education these days, I am going to give it a big THUMBS UP … or at least for my daughter. She has totally earned it and it is my hope all of the children who earn Camp Jenny will go on to earn many more things too.

Earning Jenny on Vimeo

FYI…if you want to watch the video you will need to send me an email to receive the link and password. Sorry it is technically the property of the film school but trust me it is awesome and totally worth the 7 minutes of your time.

That’s all for now…#BlackerOut

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Filed under Parenting