With their, signature-covered tzedakah boxes in hand, campers Jodie Jarcho and Rachel Saef hugged Camp TOV Director Jennifer Lande goodbye on a Friday afternoon. The two girls had pledged a week of their summer to tikkun olam-repairing the world, or in this case, the Chicago area-by participating in Camp TOV.
Campers averaged two different volunteer-jobs per day with organizations such as Bernie's Book Bank and the Ethiopian Community Association.
"I made so many friends," Saef said.
She and Jarcho were joined by three other city campers. The friends slipped inside jokes into every sentence as they slapped the table in laughter, looking back on the past five days.
"I went to Inspiration Cafe," camper Leah Umanskiy said. "A lot of the clients were saying things like, 'Thank you so much, I am so blessed for this meal.' Most of them were really, really grateful."
For many, experiences like Umanskiy's were the highlight of the jam-packed week.
"The places we made the most difference were the places where we actually worked with people directly," Umanskiy said.
Veteran camper Max Kopinsky savored his achievements. "It felt like I made someone less fortunate than I happy," Kopinsky said. "Going out rather than just bringing in canned foods or book donations makes much more of an impact."
Many campers were brought outside of their comfort zones while on site throughout the week, according to Hallie Shapiro Devir, Assistant Vice President of Israel Experience and Youth Initiatives for the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. "There were a lot of kids who were very uncomfortable dealing with homeless people or the elderly, and they didn't know how to talk to them face to face," said Shapiro Devir. "At the end of it, though, they had tried something new and learned that they can make a difference and step outside of their regular box to really do something good."
And "good" is an understatement. On the last day of camp, while building a wheelchair path along the beachside at La Rabida Children's Hospital, the counselors were unable to convince the campers to stop working until they had the last stone faultlessly placed.
Returning camper Naomi Kopinsky was drawn in from day one. "Camp TOV was something I wanted to return to because I knew how much fun it was," Naomi said. "I want to be a leader, and at school I feel like we just learn some things. But here, it is hands on and you make an impact."
"I think it is important to see that there are others who are less fortunate than you," said Lande. "It is amazing to know that you're constantly taking part in tikkun olam and being aware that there are people that need your help!"
Josh Kahn is a rising junior at Francis W. Parker School and lives in Chicago.