By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — In the cool woods behind the Schenectady Jewish Community Center, arrows snap off of bows and land with a thud, or, if the archer is lucky, a satisfying pop as they break a colorful balloon. Yes!
The JCC’s bustling summer camp program, which serves about 250 kids per each of its eight weeks, has ended, and school has begun. But for about a dozen dedicated campers, the only thing in sight is the colorful targets ahead.
Each year, a fraction of the summer campers stick around for these smaller specialty camps, from archery to swimming and drama.
Archery instructor Rachel Csakany, a certified physical education instructor who has been working summers at the JCC for four years, said the kids love feeling like their idols from movies and books like “The Hunger Games” series.
“They’ll come in and close one eye, and it’s so funny,” she said.
But in addition to being an entertaining end to the summer, Csakany said she’s always happy to impart worthwhile lessons.
“I can see sometimes they get frustrated,” she said. “I tell them, ‘I promise you by the end of two weeks you will hit this target.’ ” The individual sport gives kids a chance to compete with themselves and focus on individual improvement.
To keep the competition interesting, she’ll sometimes decorate the targets with playing cards and challenge kids to see who can get the best hand. She also keeps score, and names a winning “Sharp Shooter” each day. Perhaps best of all, the highest scorer for each bow gets to name it.
“It kind of gives them a personal challenge,” Csakany said. She is always excited to seem them succeed.
Third-grader David Sardella said archery helps him focus.
“It’s my goal every day to try to get one bull’s-eye,” said Sardella, who plays baseball and runs track. Archery camp is good practice for those sports, too.
“It helps my muscles,” he said.
On the flip side of that individual growth is the potential for community creation that day camps can bring, said JCC Director Mark Weintraub.
“It’s a transformative experience in life that people don’t forget,” he said.
It must be worthwhile if more than 65,000 day campers in North America sign up each summer for JCC programs alone. At the Schenectady JCC, summer camp is an 82-year tradition with more than 5,000 alumni. Weintraub hopes to strengthen the camp community even more in the future by reaching out to former Schenectady JCC campers around the globe. But one doesn’t have to go far to find some of the alumni.
Andy Katz, summer camp director, attended programs at the Schenectady JCC when he was a kid. As a teen, he took the counselor training course there and led the activities. He’s now been employed there for nearly two decades, including nine years as camp director.
He hopes the next step for his lifelong project will be a grant from The Harold Grinspoon Foundation’s JCamp 180 project, which provides funding and mentorship for growing the day camp community.
But for the kids, the life lessons can wait. This afternoon, it’s all about hitting the target.
“I like archery when I get to shoot the target and in the middle you get a lot of points,” first-grader Claire Orzel exclaimed.
Are you a Schenectady JCC Camp alumnus? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to be notified of upcoming JCC and alumni events.