Hero of Chesed: Zach Rheaume

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The Jewish Federation of Cleveland recognizes and thanks frontline workers at our beneficiary agencies.

Meet "Hero of Chesed" Zach Rheaume, Camp Wise groundskeeper at the Mandel Jewish Community Center of Cleveland.

Q: Why did you choose your current position?

A: I chose my position here at Camp Wise because I have wanted to do this job, taking care of a camp, since I was 11 years old. I was in Boy Scouts and enjoyed camp and camping so much that I knew I wanted to be part of making sure others could have the great experiences I had. When the position at Camp Wise came up, I knew this was the kind of place where I would fit right in and really be able to enjoy my work and help other people enjoy their time at camp.

Q: What do you love most about working with community members?

A: I really enjoy working with the staff and youth staff in training in a normal summer to facilitate their crazy set designs or Maccabiah plaque designs and help youth staff in training with their project. It’s really nice to take people who have never held a tool in their hand, or almost never, and work with them to build something. Something they can feel proud to have had a hand in making. It was something I really missed this year since camps were canceled. But as part of our new Wise Outdoor Fun Days family programming, we had a Live Wise program where I got to do that same thing. This time, working with different ages than I would normally. It’s great to see someone who doesn’t think they can build something, or doesn’t know how, realize that they can do it. We haven’t had as diverse a project list this year as I might get. But that allowed me to focus and make sure I was helping them overcome their fear of something outside their comfort zone. It is great to see a camper’s eyes light up when they finish running the jigsaw to cut out a circle or when they drive the last screw into the project and they see the finished thing they built. I hope it’s an experience they will remember for some time to come.

Q: How has your typical day changed since the COVID-19 outbreak?

A: The biggest change was not having camp this summer. That threw my entire work world off. We do so much to get things ready for 500 campers and staff to descend onto camp and then there is a constant work load with lots of crazy fun projects, experiences and interactions that go along with it. Without that it was just really different. We still mow the grass and fix things but it’s a lot different when camp is empty. Luckily, over the last few weeks when we hosted Camp Wise Outdoor Fun Days, we have been able to have people out and having fun. I personally have worked with a few of the Groups by Design (families or groups of 10 or less) to so some service projects for camp, and we have managed to build several outdoor garbage cans to replace old ones that we cycled out of use.

Q: What are the biggest challenges that community members you work with are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic?

A: I know it’s been really hard for a lot of the campers and staff to not be able to come out to camp this year. Some of them have been coming to camp every summer for most of their lives. They have friends that live all over that they look forward to seeing every summer that didn’t get to happen this year. I can’t imagine having a year when I was a kid when I couldn’t go to camp because the world was on pause. Camp is a great place for campers and staff to sort of exist in their own little world away from phones and TVs and all the stresses of everyday life, and this year, when it is arguably needed the most, it wasn’t safe to have it. Camp held lots of programs over Zoom and we have our Wise Outdoor Fun Days program where it’s been a helpful reprieve to come out and experience the joy that camp brings and to get away from the “real world” even if only for a half a day.

Q: Where do you gain your strength in times like these and what do you do to recharge?

A: I genuinely love my job. That really helps. I know how important camp is to me and to all the campers, staff and alumni, and I know that keeping camp in good working order even in hard times is important. It is important to make sure that when staff and campers show up for summer of 2021, camp is here and better than it was when they left in 2019. Aside from that I read some great fiction books that keep my mind occupied. When I’m feeling antsy and need to get out, I try to work on some of my hobbies like woodworking and blacksmithing.

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