Rachel Ritter Smith
Jewish Community Center Chicago
(October, 2012, Chicago, IL)—Campers at JCC Camp Chi in Wisconsin fought cancer creatively this past summer. Fifty Staff-in-Training (SIT) participated in a pilot curriculum based on the Twist Out Cancer (TOC) project. TOC is a virtual community founded by 30-year-old lymphoma survivor Jenna Benn, through which individuals affected by cancer create a profile distinguishing his or her individual “twist” on fighting cancer. This twist becomes a collection of videos, posts, songs, pictures, or other media gifted to the survivor by anyone who chooses to respond.
This past July, on a Saturday dedicated to the project, Benn engaged campers in a discussion about her fight with cancer, creating TOC, and how social media played a huge role in her persistent positive attitude. Before she got sick, Benn loved to dance; one day she posted a video of herself doing the twist and invited others to share their own videos. She got thousands of responses and realized the power of video to connect survivors and supporters.
Using the TOC Web-based platform, campers were challenged to respond to three survivors, to create a piece of art, to film a carefree, childhood moment, and to share their own inspiring stories. The SITs enthusiastically spent the day under Benn’s guidance, working together on their gifts. “They were not only willing to participate and give back in a meaningful way, they were motivated to continue to bring TOC’s message back to their respective communities,” said Benn.
“This program went above and beyond my expectations,” said Rachel Jacobsohn (SIT ’12). “Jenna was fantastic and inspiring. The entire group joined together with 110% effort to create meaningful answers for each challenge.”
“They experienced the importance of supporting those in need and have been inspired to continue this type of work,” said Jamie Lake, assistant director of JCC Camp Chi. Each summer, staff at JCC Camp Chi find new and creative ways to bring Jewish values to life through hands-on and meaningful activities. The TOC project embodied the Jewish value of caring for the sick, bikur cholim. SITs are no strangers to helping others; they have organized recycling, helped clean after the Lake Delton flood, and volunteered at Habitat for Humanity, to name just a few of the many projects.
“We discussed that bikur cholim is a responsibility not only of an individual but of the community,” said Jacobsohn. The TOC project engages the community in bikur cholim through social media. Through that medium, Benn’s vision has touched countless lives, and it was the catalyst that brought the project to JCC Camp Chi. Growing up, both Lake and Benn attended Birch Trail Camp, and later reconnected through Facebook. Through updates, Lake learned about TOC and contacted Benn to find out how JCC Camp Chi campers could be involved in the project.
“At the time, Jenna was working with a professor at Northwestern University, to develop an educational curriculum, and we volunteered to try it out over the summer,” said Lake. TOC was used as a case study by Danny M. Cohen’s, PhD., Program Development & Implementation class. Students analyzed and critiqued the TOC initiatives and created an action plan for sustainability, including programs and evaluation methods that will help TOC grow in the future.
“It was one of the best things I’ve done at camp in years,” said Lake. “The kids were so into it.”
“At the end of the session, as I looked at my entire SIT class going crazy doing the Twist, I was overcome with an intense sense of teamwork and genuine satisfaction,” said Jacobsohn. “I was truly inspired by being part of this.”
“This group demonstrated remarkable leadership and creativity,” said Benn. “It was wonderful to witness an incredible transformation. They learned a lot about each other, and their relationships were undoubtedly strengthened from it.” To learn more about TOC, training and/or hosting a program for your camp, or school, visit twistoutcancer.org.
JCC Camp Chi is the Midwest’s premier Jewish overnight camp for boys and girls ages 9-16. Modern facilities bring campers’ summers alive with horseback riding, sports, high ropes/climbing tower, arts and crafts, and water adventure. Campers live in gender- and age-specific villages, engage in specially-tailored activities, Israel education programs, Shabbat celebrations, and are guided to embrace respect, community and kindness. Interaction and connection with other Jewish campers and Israeli staff provide the framework for pride in their Jewish heritage. campchi.com.
JCC Chicago is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring a strong and vibrant Jewish life and community for generations to come. JCC is a partner in serving our community, supported by the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation. gojcc.org.