JAFCO program returns Camp JORI to its roots


Judaism has always placed enormous emphasis on raising children. In one midrash, people who enter the world to come are asked five questions. One is, “What did you do to raise the next generation?” Even people who never have kids are expected to help nurture and educate our children.

That impulse was behind what eventually became Camp JORI, which began in 1909 as the Jewish Orphanage of Rhode Island, in Providence. To give its residents a summer vacation in the country, JORI’s founders set up a small camp in Narragansett in 1937. With changes in government policy promoting foster care, JORI closed the orphanage in 1943. It sold the building to The Miriam Hospital and reorganized itself around the camp.

Now open to everyone in the Jewish community – while ensuring that no child is turned away because of inability to pay – Camp JORI has grown steadily. In 2003, it moved to its current, much larger, location on 72 acres in South Kingstown.

The drive to take care of the less fortunate has continued in the form of financial aid for needy campers, with substantial annual support from the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island. Every year, a significant number of families receive financial assistance, ranging from a few hundred dollars to thousands. These include struggling middle-income families, single-parent families, grandparents raising grandchildren, and the unemployed. But last year the camp took a much bolder step: taking on six kids from faraway South Florida.

The kids came from Jewish Adoption and Family Care Options (JAFCO), which started in 1992 to support abused or neglected children in South Florida. Instead of Jewish kids going into the state foster care system and being raised in non-Jewish homes, JAFCO gives them a Jewish environment and helps preserve and strengthen their Jewish identity.

The JORI-JAFCO partnership began in 2016, when the two organizations were introduced and recognized an opportunity based on their common heritage and goals.

JAFCO staff accompanied the children to Green Airport, while JORI provided full scholarships, partially offset by donors from both organizations. The children, ages 9 to 14, adapted well and seemed to have a good experience. JORI’s supportive climate and philosophy of TACEO (Taking Care of Each Other) helped ensure success.

My own 13-year-old twin sons were at camp with the JAFCO youngsters, and didn’t realize their special circumstances until late in the program. And coming from Miami was not as strange as it might seem: While the vast majority of the JORI 300 campers in 2016 were from Rhode Island or neighboring states, others came from as far away as California.

Some local campers got to know the JAFCO kids well. One parent said his child returned from camp with a new perspective on his own family situation.

The partnership worked so well that Camp JORI is repeating it this year. All six kids from last summer are coming back, and four more will be joining them. The camp is also considering hiring some JAFCO alumni as counselors or other staff members.

Michael Schuster, JORI’s board president, underscored the importance of this effort for JORI.

“It reminds us of our responsibility to reach out and help whenever and wherever we can. We plan to continue to recruit children from diverse localities.”

JAFCO’s executive director, Sarah Franco, adds that her organization is grateful for the kids’ “chance to get away from the stressors of family problems, therapy, courts and so many other issues that can bring childhood abruptly to an end. Now they can regain their childhood with a carefree summer filled with sunshine and happiness.”

JOHN LANDRY lives in Providence with his wife and their two sons, who have attended Camp JORI for four summers.