Thanks to a grant allocated by the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners, families at the Mayerson JCC’s Camp at the J will have greater access to financial aid, inclusion, and mental health and wellness because of a significant new grant award. The J received almost $200,000 from the Hamilton County Youth Resiliency Grant, awarded to help organizations improve youth resiliency and combat social isolation during and after COVID-19. The grant was developed as part of Hamilton County’s American Rescue Plan – State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (ARPA-SLFRF). The county found that the impact of social isolation on youth was exacerbated by pandemic-related school closures and reductions in extracurricular activities, and to combat that, they are funding existing after school and summer programs that have proven outcomes in areas such as improved self-confidence and self-esteem, connectedness, and social and mental health.
“We are so grateful to Hamilton County for this funding,” said Camp at the J Director Lauren Smyjunas. “During the pandemic, we saw the significant negative effects of isolation as well as an increase in the need for physical and emotional support. In addition, job losses and reduced hours created a real financial need in our community. But we also saw first-hand the huge benefits of attending a program like Camp at the J. This funding will help increase the number of campers who are able to spend the summer with us and improve the experience for all our campers.”
Camp at the J will use the funds to support three key areas of the program:
Financial Access: To pursue the Mayerson JCC’s mission of connecting people so they can live happier and fuller lives, families must have access to financial assistance to ensure that most, if not all, children in the community can fully participate in camp at the JCC regardless of their ability to pay the full fee. While the J provides its own financial aid and receives funding from the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, additional funding from Hamilton County will allow the Mayerson JCC to serve more children at camp.
Inclusion: Each summer, the J serves children with special needs at camp through the Camp Advocate program. The Camp Advocate program provides a 1:1 advocate for children with varying needs at no additional cost to the family. Last summer, Camp at the J hired 12 advocates with special education backgrounds to ensure that campers would be successful at camp, but there is more demand for advocates. Funding from ARPA-SLFRF will increase the access families have to advocates. This is a particularly important segment of the population to serve because these children experienced more social isolation during COVID-19 due to programs serving children with special needs being put on hold. Funding will also support a Camp Nurse and the Community Life Coordinator who will work to ensure all children are successful and healthy.
Wellness: The Mayerson JCC believes it is important to address the needs of all campers at Camp at the J. The wellness initiative aims at supporting the mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health (MESSH) needs of all campers and staff, regardless of whether there is a specific mental health diagnosis. In 2022, Camp at the J hired a Youth Mental Health Clinician. This professional supports the campers’ social and emotional needs and provides guidance and support for parents. They also work directly with camp staff to support their mental health. Last year, the J also added a facility dog from Circle Tail to the camp staff to further provide emotional support for campers and staff. The facility dog is trained to provide physical, social, cognitive, and emotional assistance to campers, staff, and families. Funding from Hamilton County will help offset the cost of the mental health professional and facility dog.
In addition, funding will support new initiatives in the wellness area. All camp staff will be trained in Mental Health First Aid, and new equipment will be purchased to update the sensory room, which is a safe and quiet space for campers to spend time when the need a break from Camp.
“At the end of the day, this new funding will help us improve the experience for all our campers,” Smyjunas said. “Over the course of the summer, we anticipate kids will meet new friends, improve their self-image, and have more tools to respond to challenges in a positive way.”