An anonymous donor has made a $5.1 million contribution to the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago's Camping Endowment, believed to be the largest gift ever made to a community camping endowment in the United States.
The gift brings the JUF Camping Endowment to nearly $8.5 million, which will support up to 500 first-time camper grants and provide $120,000 in financial need scholarships for Chicago-area campers each year.
"An extraordinarily generous family, who wishes to remain anonymous, has made this gift in memory of a beloved matriarch," said Dr. Steven B Nasatir, president of JUF. "We believe it is the largest gift made to a community camping endowment.
"It is a profoundly meaningful legacy to enable hundreds of children to attend Jewish summer camp every year," Nasatir said. "We are grateful for this family's vision and generosity."
The JUF Camping Endowment was established in 2012 to expand local camp scholarship and incentive grant dollars. In just five years, JUF has increased the number of its annual incentive grants six-fold, and nearly doubled the financial need scholarships it provides.
Chicago is one of the first communities to incentivize Jewish overnight camp through its Camp Coupons program, which started in 2002, and provides incentive grants to first-time Jewish summer camp participants. The program merged with One Happy Camper in 2012, the same year the JUF Camping Endowment was established.
"Jewish camp is an essential ingredient for a strong Jewish future," Nasatir said. "Research shows that when children return home from Jewish summer camp, they have a deepened connection to Jewish life and culture, and have developed new friendships that will last their lifetime. These connections, to people and community, are transformational."
Seven out of 10 Jewish adults who are active in the Jewish community went to Jewish summer camp, and one in three Jewish professionals (clergy, teachers and communal workers) served as counselors.
"Through our first-time camper grants and financial need scholarships, we have enabled thousands of children to attend Jewish overnight camp over the last several decades," said Hallie Shapiro Devir, associate vice president of Community Outreach and Engagement. "This leadership gift will ensure that thousands more will be able to experience camp for decades to come.
"This gift helps us address two important issues: the development of Jewish identity in young people and the financial barriers that can prevent families from choosing Jewish overnight camp," Devir said. "Our goals is to grow the endowment to $11.5 million so we can further increase our support for Jewish camping."
For more information about Jewish overnight camp, email JewishCamp@juf.org.