Junior Counselor Fellowship
Camp Eisner and Crane Lake Camp
Union for Reform Judaism
Rising senior campers, returning to camp for the last summer before the end of high school
Jewish Knowledge/Engagement Level of Participants
No special expectations except that these young people are assumed to have spent at least a few summers at overnight camp and one summer on an Israel program, the previous year.
The Junior Counselor Fellowship aims to make camp more appealing compared to rival attractions such as travel to Europe, teen tours, or forms of work experience. And at the same time, by providing young people with an authentic taste of responsibility, it seeks to launch them on a trajectory in which over the following years they become peer leaders at camp and beyond.
Historically, these two camps, like many others, offered a form of transitional experience to rising high school seniors. Billed as “Machon” (literally, the Institute), they tried to attract young people back to camp in order to learn leadership and counselor skills so that in future years they would want and feel prepared to work as staff. Participants were expected to pay $4,500 for the summer, less than regular campers would be expected to pay. In 2021, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, these two camps adopted a different model: instead of treating this age cohort as counselors in training, that is, as young people not yet ready for responsibility, they welcomed them to camp as junior counselors who would assume real responsibilities while participating in structured opportunities to reflect on their experiences. “Instead of sitting on the lawn, talking about leadership, they’re doing leadership from the start.” And perhaps most dramatically, instead of paying for a place at camp, they receive pay of $1,000 for their time. The Fellows are asked to do a real job. While it is too soon to determine the longer-term consequences of empowering young people in this way, the initial signs are promising: there has been greater interest among this age group in coming back to camp, and higher proportions of those who participated in the program have come back to serve as counselors the following year than used to be the case. It’s not yet known whether this experience results in Fellows becoming peer leaders in their own communities.