A total of 32 Jewish camps from across North America have been awarded more than $1 million to address issues concerning mental health at day and overnight camps.

It’s the first round of a groundbreaking $3.2 million “Yedid Nefesh” grant, an initiative of Foundation for Jewish Camp, made possible by the generosity of the Marcus Foundation, designed to help camps address the mental, emotional and social health (MESH) needs of both campers and staff. Named “Yedid Nefesh” (Hebrew forBeloved Soul”), this initiative addresses the increasing challenges campers and staff face as it relates to MESH with a multifaceted, whole-person approach.

The 32 grant recipients, selected from more than 90 applicants, represent a diverse range of day and overnight camps, Jewish denominations, regions and camp movements.

“Our partnership with the Marcus Foundation enables us to raise the bar of excellence for all Jewish camps,” said Jeremy J. Fingerman, FJC’s CEO. “We’re confident that the ‘Yedid Nefesh’ grant will have a positive impact on the Jewish camp community.”

The overwhelming response to the call for applications highlights the need for this initiative and indicates a shift in the field of Jewish camping. Research by the National Council of Behavioral Health shows that 50 percent of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14 and 75 percent by age 24, the age range of overnight and day-camp staff.

Funds will be distributed to help camps hire qualified mental-health professionals, as well as be directed to counselor training and wellness programming such as meditation, yoga and journaling. A select number of camps will also pilot a comprehensive assessment module to assist FJC in developing best practices around policies, procedures and staffing models.

The program will span three years, and a second cohort of 30 camps will join the original grantees in 2020.

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