Two camp alumni reflect on the strength of the staff
It’s only mid-February, but alumni of Camp Barney Medintz are likely having visions of cabins, lakes, trails and dining halls.
Summer camp registration time is upon us — the time when families of returning campers and those with children who may be going to camp for the first time are thinking about summer plans.
A former camper looking back on the Camp Barney experience and a current camper looking forward to the upcoming summer talked about their time on the 540 wooded acres around two lakes 75 miles northeast of Atlanta. Both were so inspired by their experience as campers and the counselors that they wanted to become counselors to give back to the place.
Jacob Meyer, 18, a premed major, spent 11 summers as a camper and counselor. “When you’re at camp, it seems like forever; it’s like a paradise,” he said. “Those memories are products of the staff — the environment they create and the impact they made.”
Jayme Dinnerstein, 16, a junior at Alpharetta High School, is looking at spending more summers at Camp Barney, including becoming a counselor, but her experience is similar. She also touted the staff as one of the things that make Camp Barney so special.
“So many staff members have inspired me, one being Rosie Arkin. Rosie was my counselor in Giborim and Alufim, and she was also my SIT (staff in training) unit head this past summer. She is the most optimistic and selfless person I’ve ever met and is a perfect example of what a Camp Barney staff member encompasses,” Dinnerstein said. “She is so concerned for others, which is a quality about her that I truly admire. I have become close with her beyond camp, and I am so grateful for her.”
She said Camp Barney teaches lessons about community, friendship, love and happiness. “I can honestly say that I feel happiest when I am at camp and that it has showed me how to be a better person in every way possible.”
Meyer said it is important for Camp Barney executives to “continue to teach the staff that one summer is so much more than one summer; it is a forever that is full of memories, rolled in to just one month for these kids. When these campers grow up and become staff, their forevers will shape how they impact the new generation of campers.”
Camp Barney is fortunate that many campers go on to become staff members. It is not unusual for a Barney staffer to be at the camp for a ninth or 10th summer. Approximately 80 percent of Barney staff members are returning staffers and/or former campers.
“Our staff return to Camp Barney because it is the place that holds the best memories for them, they enjoy working with children, and they want every camper to thrive, grow, and have even more fun than last summer,” Barney Director Jim Mittenthal said.
“Before I went to camp, I went to synagogue and Sunday school, but Judaism never really clicked for me there,” she said. “Something about the way Barney operates — the services under a beautiful chapel overlooking the mountains and being able to sing meaningful songs with my friends — made me realize how incredible my religion is.”
Jewish customs and culture are woven into everyday life at Camp Barney. Campers enjoy Jewish music, learn about Israel and Israeli dance and culture, and take part in Shabbat rituals.
“My Judaism has been strengthened in every way because of Camp Barney,” Dinnerstein said. “My camp friends began signing up for BBYO, so I did too, and BBYO has become a major part of my life — something I would not have been introduced to without camp.”
Studies show that a Jewish overnight camp experience is the greatest indicator of a connection to Jewish identity throughout life. Camp Barney inspires and solidifies a camper’s lifelong connection to Jewish heritage.
Mittenthal said the fondness with which Dinnerstein and Meyer speak about their camp experiences directly relates to Camp Barney’s essence. “For five decades, Camp Barney has shown campers the magic of summer camp and the joy of making lifelong friends while challenging them with new activities that increase their self-confidence and independence — benefits that will last for a lifetime. Along the way, our campers develop and solidify their connection to their Jewish identity, and many become leaders in the Jewish community.”