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/