Blog  GUCI: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

GUCI: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

By Casey Wright


(Cabin 1, Kallah Bet 2002—I’m second from the right in the blue dress)

It was the summer of 2002. Vanessa Carlton and Ashanti topped the charts; Tamagotchis, Furbies, and slap bracelets were all the rage. And I was preparing for my first summer at Goldman Union Camp Institute in Zionsville, Indiana.

I had never been to camp before. As an only child, I had never even lived with another kid before. Needless to say, I wasn’t particularly excited. And I certainly would never have guessed that I was about to enter a place that would completely change my life.

My first summer at camp is mostly a blur. I remember small details–being on the Red Team for Yom Sport, not making it all the way up the Migdal, and writing a joint service part with one of my cabinmates—but the rest is fuzzy. I was not one of those kids who immediately took very naturally to the environment of camp; I mostly just hung out quietly in the background.


(Raising my hand during Shiur, Kallah Bet 2002)

But I kept coming back, and slowly I came out of my shell. In the summers that followed, I was given the chance to thrive. Camp gave me a space to grow and flourish, pushed me to tackle new challenges, and introduced me some of the best people I have ever met. I eventually got to be a Red Team Yom Sport captain, and ran the Migdal as head specialist. I even went to the wedding of that cabinmate I shared a service part with.

Returning to camp provided me with new skills summer after summer. As a camper, GUCI taught me how to be comfortable embracing leadership, and how to collaborate with others to achieve a goal. As a staff member I was given immense amounts of responsibility, learned how to manage and supervise others, and was given total ownership over huge projects and countless programs. I learned just how much I enjoy working hard for something I love. And it was through working at camp that I realized a job in the Jewish professional world might just be a good fit for me.


(Shoresh Day Off with my co-Head Counselor Dan Bram, 2013)

For the last three years, I have had the privilege to work full-time for the URJ Youth Division. I now get to support the programs that shaped me into the person I am today. Every single day I use skills that I learned at camp: creative problem-solving, working as a part of a team, not shying away from responsibility, and, maybe most importantly, always drawing on our shared values to shape my goals and my work.

A month before beginning my job at the URJ, I was finishing my final summer at camp. At that point some of my former campers were on staff with me, and I received my “Five-Year Fleece.” I had spent fourteen wonderful summers as a part of the GUCI family and received so many life-changing gifts as a result. As I packed up my car at the end of that summer and drove out the front gates, I thought back to the nine-year-old girl who had nervously come through those same gates almost a decade and a half before. She had absolutely no idea how lucky she was.

Casey Wright works as the Recruitment & Marketing Director for URJ Heller High (formerly NFTY-EIE). Prior to that role, she worked as Program Coordinator for NFTY. Casey grew up in Cincinnati, OH as a member of Wise Temple, and graduated from the University of Michigan in 2015. She currently lives in New York City.

Learn more about Heller High here: https: //hellerhigh.org/