It took the pandemic to nudge the Pozez Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia and Gesher Jewish Day School to implement an idea they’ve been talking about for a long time: holding the Pozez JCC’s Achva Day Camp on the Gesher school’s 28-acre outdoor facilities in summer 2021.
“It’s an opportunity to dip our toe into the water,” said Amy Brinko, associate executive director of the Pozez JCC. “We see it as a step toward a partnership.”
That step, announced on Dec. 21, will have long-term implications for Northern Virginia’s Jewish community, the agencies say.
First, the arrangement will not end when the pandemic does. While holding camp outdoors at Gesher poses fewer health risk than activities inside the Pozez JCC building, the school offers amenities that the JCC does not: a fire pit, garden, winding nature trails and outdoor brick oven for baking pita, in addition to ball fields, a playground and basketball courts.
“Parents got really excited, really quick,” said Jennifer Scher, director of community advancement at Gesher, of the reaction to the announcement.
Parents in Arlington and Alexandria contacted Camp Achva Director Anat Litwok, asking if there will be bus service to the camp, located in Fairfax.
That interest from outside the agencies’ immediate area is a second implication. It could raise Camp Achva’s weekly enrollment from 180-220 kids to 400-500 kids a week,” said Jeff Dannick, the Pozez JCC’s executive director
The arrangement is an advantage to the school because it will bring in fees for use of the its outdoor facilities, said Aviva Walls, Gesher’s head of school.
The two agencies began meeting in the fall to determine “what would need to be true” to be able move the camp to Gesher.
One answer was that a longtime partnership would be necessary. That began a “dream stage” of talking about projects the two agencies might want to pursue in years to come. On that dream list is constructing a joint swimming pool at Gesher, Walls said.
Another is what Dannick called a “robust busing strategy,” to move children around the area.
Northern Virginia has the largest Jewish population in the Washington region, with few focal points. In serving a dispersed population, the Pozez JCC has long looked for ways to decentralize. “We talked about a hub-and-spoke system,” Dannick said.
With the pandemic came virtual activities. “We plan to keep that,” he said. “This is the future of Northern Virginia.”
This is a fiscal relationship as well as a community-building one. “We’re a little above break even” in the cost of moving the camp to Gesher and running it there, Dannick said. “We’re hoping there might be philanthropic support” for the first summer. That could be followed by a long-term capital campaign, he added.
Dannick said he hopes plan will excite area Jewish philanthropists, since it strengthens the Jewish community in Northern Virginia.
“A total contribution in the $100,000 range” will cover the cost, he said, “the lion’s share which is rental payment, including incremental costs, to Gesher,” such as security, maintenance and cleaning services.