Forget the South Pacific, the Australian Outback and Africa -- if you want to see a real survivor, look no further than in your own backyard.
Despite the well-chronicled hardships of its parent organization, Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA), Malibu-based The Shalom Institute: Camp and Conference Center has managed to maintain its composure in the face of the organization's upheaval.
"Fortunately, we are in a good place financially," Bill Kaplan, Camp JCA Shalom's director, told The Journal. "We're right there. We're doing OK. We're maintaining."
Based in Malibu, the Shalom Institute is the umbrella entity of four basic departments: Camp JCA Shalom, which offers summer and weekend camps for young children and teens; Shalom Adventure Center, which offers rock climbing, hiking and other activities; Shalom Nature Center, which offers educational environmental programs; and the Emma Stern Conference and Retreat Center, an elderhostel program. At an annual budget of just over $2 million from revenue and contributions, the institute has grown since 1994, when it operated on $855,000.
Kaplan, who has been director for eight years, believes multiple factors have kept The Shalom Institute afloat. However, not to be undervalued are his institution's great relationships with parent institution JCCGLA, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and Jewish Community Foundation.
"Jewish camping has such a great impact on Jewish continuity," Kaplan said. "Financially, we've been more independent. We're less costly. We've grown over the years, and we've reinvented ourselves from summer camp into a year-round camping institute."
Post-recession and Sept. 11, the institute's elderhostel, which is based in its recently established 24-room Emma Stern building, took a hit in attendance, although it is slowly rebounding.
"After Sept. 11, a lot of people, who come from out of town, weren't flying -- especially senior citizens," said Joel Charnick, 27, who serves as both assistant director of The Shalom Institute and as director of the Emma Stern Conference and Retreat Center. Nevertheless, Charnick will push forward with developing the Shalom Senior Arts Program, which will offer classes in Jewish humor, theater, dancing and song.
The institute has also seen rises in costs of basic operations. "Our utilities shot through the roof, "Kaplan said. Some of the facilities are aging and require maintenance and repairs. "The reality is those are the costs," he said. "We're not making huge profits."
"Overall, the big impact on us is scholarships," Kaplan said. "Scholarship requests from kids more than doubled than last year."
With the Federation's help, Camp JCA Shalom distributes between $50,000 and $100,000 in scholarships to more than 160 children each year. The scholarships are crucial for many children, since the institute has had to raise tuition fees over the years in order to stay competitive and maintain a quality staff. A two-week session at Camp JCA costs about $1,300 per kid; a four-week session costs $2,600.
The Shalom Institute's world goes back 51 years. Back then, Camp JCA (which stands for Jewish Community Association, the original acronym for the JCC system) was located at Barton Flats in the San Bernardino Mountains. In 1972, Camp JCA opened its Malibu campus. In 1990, the Barton Flats location was sold, and the Malibu campus became the camp's primary location, which it remains today. The campus consists of 135 acres nestled within a canyon filled with oak and sycamore trees, and the area is conducive to the institute's various athletic activities.
In 1997, the institution's advisory board made a bold move to reinvent itself from Camp JCA Shalom to The Shalom Institute.
The Federation was a crucial player in Shalom's rebirth a few years back. "They gave us $50,000 per year to help out in scholarships," Kaplan said. "We're hoping that they'll help us again."
Another reason for Shalom Institute's feasibility might be Kaplan himself, and the tradition and continuity he has brought to the institution. Kaplan's history with JCA spans most of his 36 years. Before rising to the position of director, he served as JCA's assistant camp director for four years.
Since becoming a year-round camping destination, the institute, under Kaplan's aegis, has become more ambitious in its programming, because he was intent on cultivating "new and innovative ways to attract young Jews."
Last year, a Murder Mystery Weekend was held for young adults. This year, the institute will develop its Young Adults Getaway Weekend for 21 to 39-year-olds, to be held Labor Day weekend. Singles will be able to mingle as they participate in activities such as rock climbing, hiking, kayaking, and Israeli dancing."
The Shalom Institute has also partnered with Hillel in its College Campus Initiative, a $552,000 Jewish Community Foundation grant doled out over three years, to involve college students.
"Under Bill's leadership and Adam Grant, president of the institute's advisory board, as the lay leader, you have great people involved," said JCCGLA Executive Vice President Nina Lieberman Giladi. "It's also vital and successful because there've been a lot of healthy initiative with Hillel to do outreach with college people."
The firsthand experience and personal touch that Kaplan, Charnick and their staff have contributed to Shalom Institute has made JCCGLA's top brass very happy campers.
"Where it is going is an opportunity for continued growth," Giladi said. "Bill is treating this as an institute without walls. He has been and will be doing a lot of programming offsite, and I think that it's an area that we can keep growing."
For more information, visit The Shalom Institute: Camp and Conference Center at campjcashalom.com and www.shalominstitute.com .
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