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    5 Reasons JCA Has Amazing Staff.

    I’m going to let you in on one of the secrets to our success… fantastic staff. It seems so simple, but I promise you that it’s the difference between a good camp and a great camp. Our staff is superb and it’s not a coincidence.

    Not counting the year-round team, there are over 110 staff people working the summer camp program. So it's quite a team. This group includes about 50 counselors, 5-10 people who are working with our campers and staff who have special needs, 5 senior staff, 7 Unit heads, 3 staff who work with the CITs, a medical team, a kitchen team, a maintenance team, an office team, and the horse team. Included in that group are about 20 Israelis, 17 British staff, and 1 from Ireland. Nearly all of the Americans grew up at camp. Needless to say, our team had a lot of character!

    What makes our staff great? Really it's a number of things that all combine into a great team. Let me break down a few of the reasons why the staff at JCA are so good.

    1. It’s a numbers game.

    This year we turned away well over a hundred good applicants who wanted to work here. Having this many applicants that we can really choose the cream of the crop. I can remember the days when it was hard to find good staff people, and we sometimes chose people that we were on the fence about. Luckily, we were often surprised at how people can rise to the occasion.

    2. Amazing International staff.

    With Israelis and British staff, we started small, grew our staff numbers, and improved how we recruited, interviewed, and trained staff. Almost every camp I know of that takes international staff does it though agencies. It’s easier to use an agency. You fill out some forms, look at some online profiles, do a phone interview, pay a fee, and you’re done. We use an agency to get a handful of Israelis, but all other International staff (this year over 30) we get on our own. We recruit using our alumni from previous summers (we have over 100 active alumni in Israel and a growing number in England). This word of mouth recruitment is far superior to an agency. People who’ve worked here before are more invested in our success, and know what to look for in potential staff people. They know the type of applicants that will work out here. We have trusted staff people who’ve worked here before do in-person interviews in London and Tel Aviv. We follow those up with video interviews using Skype. Then, a member of our Senior staff travels to England and Israel and trains them. This way they can hit the ground running when they get here. I’ve found that our International staff (who pay for their own flights for the most part) are here for the right reasons. They are basically volunteering. They love to share about life in their countries. They are some of the most passionate and committed staff people I have ever seen.

    3. It's all about the training.

    Before the summer starts we do 3 weeks of training. It's the most of any camp I know of. The senior staff start the last week in May. The supervisors (there are about 15-20) start the first week in June and the specialists and counselors all so an 8 day inservice training. We are very proud of our training. Over years, we created a series of interactive training sessions that are almost never longer than an hour. The idea is to keep the attention of our staff (which can be challenging at times). We teach about our camp's mission, our philosophies, and there's a huge focus on the needs of campers. We train on identifying and preventing bullying, troubling behaviors and how to deal with them, Non-violent communication, council, and many more topics. Meanwhile, we are having song sessions, and Israeli dance sessions to prepare our staff so that they know the songs and dances when the kids finally come. We have a parent panel that shares what it is like to send your child away to camp. Towards the end of the training we hike down to the beach and sleep on the beach with bonfires, s'mores, and lots of singing into the night. It's a production.

    Another interesting thing is that we've chosen to govern our staff via a set of values instead of rules. The idea is to get them to "buy in" on what a good staff person looks like instead of giving them a set of rules they have to obey. Part of this is getting into the mindset of a 17-22 year old. Rather them telling them what we want them to do (or not to do), we tell them about the values we want them to encompass while working here. After they learn about the values (see link below), they make their own 10 commandments (just like the campers do). Just like the campers, they all sign the 10 commandments, and live by them for the 2 months of camp. I've found that they take this very seriously.They really respond to this approach.

    4. It starts way before they are staff people.

    Like I mentioned earlier, almost all of our American staff grew up in the camp. Last year, we had over 50 CITs. This year we had over 30. So it looks like the trend of homegrown staff will continue for a few more years, if not many more. That means that many of them were TASCers, Kibbutzniks, and CITs. For our staff members who have grown up at the camp, they have three years of giving back before they are hired to be counselors or specialists. As a result, we have a staff body that doesn't have entitlement issues, and are in the right mindset before camp even gets started. They are amazing individuals, and I am so proud of what they accomplish at camp each summer.

    5. A culture of excellence.

    For those of you who have studied about cultural norms within an organization, camp would be a great case study of a culture of excellence. What I mean by that is that staff who have worked here before or grew up at camp, are setting the example for newcomers. They are setting a very high bar and others naturally rise to their level.

    A great example of this is work ethic. Being a counselor is not easy. We expect our staff to supervise and engage up to 14 campers all day long. Just think of how challenging it is to watch 2-3 kids for a few hours. It’s exhausting just to think about! Our staff watch many more than that every day… and they’re great at it. A newcomer who thinks he/she can just “coast by” realizes that he is not holding his own when a veteran staff person (most likely his/her co-counselor) is working circles around him/her. It’s only a matter of time before both staff people are overachieving. This applies to all areas of camp… how we treat campers, how we participate in song session, how we communicate problems, putting in extra time for special events like Maccabia and Israel Day, and many, many more areas. It applies to small things like making sure your campers eat before you do. Today I had lunch with one of our new British staff who had worked at other camps before coming to JCA. He couldn’t stop talking about how refreshing it was to be a part of the team here who had “higher standards” than the other camps he had worked at before.

    You add up all of these things (and numerous other factors), and we have a pretty remarkable team here.

    I know that if your camper had a good time at camp or a bad time at camp it had mostly to do with his/her counselors. It's why having great counselors is one of our secrets to success.