Fund to finance summer camp for students in hurricane-affected areas

An emergency scholarship fund has been set up so Jewish children from hurricane-damaged areas can attend summer camp next year without charge.

The Foundation for Jewish Camping, the umbrella organization of more than 130 non-profit Jewish overnight camps in North America, announced Habayita: Coming Home to Jewish Camp.

The not-for-profit organization estimates about 400 Jewish families that traditionally send their children to summer camps have been economically devastated by Hurricane Katrina and Rita. The scholarship fund is to benefit these families who may not be able to afford to send their children to camp while dealing with the aftermath of the hurricanes.

The Jewish Children’s Regional Service in New Orleans will do the legwork of ensuring that the affected families are assisted.

“With hundreds of Jewish families affected by Hurricane Katrina and Rita, this scholarship fund will enable Jewish youth to rejoin the close-knit, nurturing, peer group community at camp, without the financial burden,” explained Jerry Silverman, president of the Foundation for Jewish Camping. “Jewish camps offer campers, their parents and their counselors opportunities for fun, educational and healing experiences, which is what these families need right now.”

With a $1.5 million goal for the scholarship fund, the Foundation for Jewish Camping plans to provide up to 400 children with a summer camp experience next year and are reaching out to camps across the country to secure available beds for these campers. No part of the fund will be used for administrative costs, ensuring that 100 percent of the fund will benefit children attending camp.

The JCRS is a social work agency and charitable fund based in Metairie that assists Jewish youth in Southern states including Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas. The JCRS traditionally provides “needs-based” scholarships and grants for Jewish summer campers and undergraduate college students, in addition to providing funding and casework services to Jewish children with physical, emotional or learning disabilities.

“For many Jewish children, the JCRS is the agency of last resort when it comes to providing the funds for needed services,” said Ned Goldberg, Executive Director of the JCRS. “Thanks to the Foundation for Jewish Camping, we will be able to help a large population of the Southern Jewish community affected by Katrina and Rita.”

Goldberg said families should contact the agency, if they have not already, to pre-register. A one-page application will be available after the first of the year, and applications should be sent in by February.

First, though, parents should start the process of enrolling their children in the camps of their choice. To be eligible, the camp must be a non-profit Jewish overnight camp. Private, for-profit camps are not eligible.

Goldberg said parents should make sure that the children are registered at camp, and if it is a camp that has not worked with JCRS, the agency can be contacted to smooth the way.’

Those who have not yet contacted JCRS but want to be included should email with the names of family members, birthdates, which children plan to attend camp, the camp they will attend, and pertinent contact information for follow-up.

Goldberg said the scholarships will go to families that evacuated or suffered heavy home damage in the New Orleans and Mississippi coastal areas. Parts of the Alabama coast, as well as an area from Beaumont to Lafayette, may also be eligible, depending on circumstances.

The Foundation for Jewish Camping is working in cooperation with other philanthropic organizations that support the Jewish community, including the United Jewish Communities, which provides humanitarian assistance to the Jewish community throughout North America and Israel.

“Recognizing the financial needs of the Southern Jewish families, the Foundation for Jewish Camping is in constant communication with the United Jewish Communities to ensure we’re doing everything we can to help rebuild the Jewish community,” said Naomi Less, vice president of programs for the Foundation for Jewish Camping.

The Foundation for Jewish Camping is committed to giving young people the opportunity to attend summer camp in the summer of 2006, whether these children have attended camp in the past or not. The Foundation strongly believes that camp is not a luxury, rather a vital mental health opportunity, helping children regain the sense of normalcy they held before the hurricanes.

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