Mandel Myers Fellowship to Help Retain Top Summer Camp Staff

Tags: Federation, Young Adults

  • Share This Story

Simon Mendelsohn, left of the sign, with one of his cabins at Camp Wise. / Submitted photo

Article reprinted with permission from Cleveland Jewish News

by Courtney Byrnes

For college students who grew up going to Jewish overnight camp, becoming a counselor seems like a natural progression to their camp experience. But with college expenses and other career opportunities, some find it difficult to justify spending their summer at camp.


The Mandel Myers Fellowship program seeks to ease this decision by offering a scholarship in addition to professional development workshops for counselors, and therefore helping camps attract and retain high-caliber staff, which Julie Finkelstein describes as a “win-win.”

“There is a challenge in the field right now around staff recruitment and retention,” Finkelstein, senior director of field services for the Foundation for Jewish Camps, told the Cleveland Jewish News. “There are lots of pressures for college students and recent grads to do other things in the summer, you know, internships and other academic pursuits. And even just committing to a full summer of working at camp can be challenging for young folks these days.”

The program, which began in 2022 with 53 participating counselors, is funded by a $1.8 million grant from the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Supporting Foundation and a grant of $150,000 a year for the next three years from the David and Inez Myers Foundation.

Returning overnight camp counselors receive a scholarship of $5,500, while first-time counselors receive a $4,500 scholarship. The counselors also partake in professional development workshops during and after the summer camp season, managed by the Jewish Federation of Cleveland in partnership with Jewish Education Center of Cleveland, Jewish Family Service Association, the Foundation of Jewish Camp, Cleveland Hillel and Hillel at Kent State University, according to a press release.

Finkelstein said the workshops are focused on skills they can use at camp, but also provide personal and professional development.

“It’s very much focused on who they are as people in the world, elevating them as camp counselors and camp staff, but also preparing them to do good things in Cleveland and beyond,” she said.

Simon Mendelsohn and Riley Peeden have both attended camp since they were young and participated in the inaugural Mandel Myers Fellowship program last year, planning to return this summer as second-year counselors.

Mendelsohn, 18, told the CJN he’s always wanted to work at camp to give campers the same experience he received at camp, and when he heard about the scholarship program, “it was kind of a no-brainer decision to be a part of that.”

As a freshman at Elon University in Elon, N.C. majoring in human service studies, he said serving as a camp counselor is helpful in learning along his career path.

Mendelsohn, a resident of Shaker Heights and member of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in Beachwood, joined a majority of the participants at Camp Wise in Claridon Township and enjoyed connecting and sharing experiences with the other counselors.

Peeden, 19, of Twinsburg has been going to URJ 6 Points Sports Academy in Greensboro, N.C., since she was 9 and said it was the one place she felt she was surrounded by other Jewish athletes like her, so she knew she wanted to become a counselor.

Riley Peeden at camp. / Submitted Photo

As she attends Ohio University in Athens as a journalism major with a political science minor, she said “the program helped open my eyes to see that the skills that I’m learning and practicing as a camp counselor can be applicable in any job field.”

While the workshops have been beneficial, both Mendelsohn and Peeden added that the scholarship money was helpful for them as they face financial responsibilities as college students.

“As the Mandel Myers Fellowship Program enters its second year, the Jewish Federation of Cleveland is grateful for the generosity of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Supporting Foundation and the David and Inez Myers Foundation for their dedication to Jewish camping,” Erika Rudin-Luria, president of the Federation, said in a statement. “Cleveland is setting the standard for other cities on how to keep Jewish summer camps vibrant by providing camp counselors the opportunity to obtain a substantial scholarship while also developing their leadership skills in an enriching Jewish environment.”

For more information, contact Leah Taylor, senior associate of outreach and engagement at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, at ltaylor@jewishcleveland.org or 216-593-2853.

More Information

WHAT: Mandel Myers Fellowship program; applications open for 2023

WHEN: Deadline to apply April 1

INFO: For more information and to apply, visit jfsa-cleveland.org/cfap

Learn More: Federation, Young Adults