Growing up in Miami in the 1990s, Josh Rader and his twin brother spent every summer at the Dave and Mary Alper Jewish Community Center as campers, returning to the “J” as camp staff during their college years.
Josh met his future wife, Michelle Applerouth-Rader, at the JCC. Their lifelong friend, Matthew Bittel’s childhood also revolved around summers at the center. As adults with families of their own, the friends wanted to re-engage and become part of the community center they knew so well as kids.
With so many positive memories between them, Matthew and Josh decided to take on the daunting task of organizing and cochairing the first Alper JCC Summer Camp Reunion. A team effort was needed and within days they had recruited more than two-dozen former campers and staff, who shared their passion and formed the reunion committee.
“It is always nice to get together, reconnect with old friends to reminisce about childhood, summer camp memories and the Alper JCC,” Bittel said. “The concept of a summer camp reunion has been talked about for years. We decided to put the plan into action and from there the event took on a mind of its own. This event is going to be a real success.”
For over 60 years, the Alper JCC Camp has created meaningful summer experiences for thousands of boys and girls. In 1932, the organization was originally called the Hebrew Athletic Club, but changed its name to the YM/YWHA in the 1960s and opened the first summer program for kids at the “Y” on SW Eighth Street.
JCC historian Roslyn Berrin recalls, “In 1965, in an effort to raise funds for summer day camp scholarships, the fundraising committee planned a special event, and it was truly ‘special.’ The committee planned a Las Vegas Night and during the evening the county police swooped down on the ballroom and confiscated the gaming equipment, and hauled off two of the organization top officers and assistant director to jail.”
It is stories like these and perhaps memories of more traditional summer happenings that will bring countless numbers of former campers and staff to the Alper JCC on Sunday, Oct. 21, noon-4 p.m., to recall old times and rekindle friendships. Kids of all ages have the opportunity to reconnect and reminisce at the JCC’s “Forever a Camper.”
Creating a fun-filled day is the responsibility of camp director Ashley Conant, the program committee, and Marsha Botkin, Paul Frishman and Susan Linder, who for years all worked together at the center. The activities they have scheduled include Flag Pole, Color War, Singin’ with Susan, a bounce house, and a campfire with Mike Moss. Commemorative T-shirts are being printed, video collages assembled and a special closing ceremony is planned.
“Based on the feedback we have received to date and with the interest which has spiked from the event’s Facebook Page, we are expecting a large turnout for the event,” said reunion co-chair Rader. “We are encouraging former campers, counselors and friends of the Alper JCC to register online and register now.
“With all event proceeds benefiting the Camp Scholarship Fund, we are urging people to give generously to help provide a JCC Summer Camp experience and the memories that go with it, to someone else.”
Since the 1960s, when the JCC first held its raucous summer camp fundraiser to this camp reunion, the center continues to creatively raise funds so that it can provide camp scholarships for children whose families are burdened with financial difficulties.
Every child should spend a summer at the Alper JCC camp.
Reunion general admission tickets include lunch and camp fun and are $36 for a family of four and $5 for each additional family member. Individual tickets are $18 per person. Patron tickets are $100, $180 and $360 and admit up to six people. For more information, call Ashley Conant, summer camp director, at 305- 271-9000, ext. 272. To register and pay online look for the Summer Camp Reunion link at www.alperjcc.org