In the spring of 1966, while in 10th grade, I was summoned to meet with a guidance counselor who told me about a summer program called Camp Rising Sun. This program had been started in 1930 by a philanthropist names George Jonas, who had no children of his own, but wanted to do something to provide a summer opportunity for promising youngsters. The focus is on leadership, scholarship, and cross-cultural interchange, as campers are selected from various parts of the US as well as a number of countries overseas. Mr. Jonas established a Foundation (the Louis August Jonas Foundation, named after his father), and supervised the operation of the Camp until his death in 1978. The Foundation Board now consists of alumni and friends who not only continue the program, but who added a parallel program for girls beginning in 1989. The two campsites are about 10 miles apart, near Rhinebeck, New York, in the Hudson Valley area.
My most important summer experience was at Camp Rising Sun--a program devoted to scholarship, leadership, and international cross-cultural exchange. It was a life changing experience for me, and I am doing my part to keep the program going for future young people.
Each camper is selected through an application and interview process, conducted by local alumni groups in the various states and countries. There is now also an “at large” application process for those who would like to apply but who do not live in an area with an established alumni group. There is no cost to attend–the Jonas Foundation itself funds the program through its endowment, as well as through contributions of alumni and friends of the Foundation. I have remained active with the program since my own summer experience in 1966, working both on camper selection and as a Board Member for a number of years, and the experience of today’s campers is very much similar to what I experienced now 50 summers ago. I have recently returned from Alumni Weekend at CRS where we had a number of my friends from the summer of 1966 at a 50th Reunion.
What I experienced was truly a transformational summer. Although I was raised in New York City, I found, as did many others, that my social milieu as a child and young adult was made up of people mostly similar to my own family. Even in a city of eight million people, one tends to live and function in a fairly homogeneous environment. How amazing it was, therefore, to come to know intimately young men from Finland, from Japan, from Nigeria, from Singapore, from Utah, and from Mississippi, to name a few. The CRS program fosters leadership, and the campers themselves are put in charge of the day to day operations, with of course staff backup. Each day a different camper serves as “Sachem”, or servant leader, and is responsible for running all the activities for that day. Campers perform “teamwork” each morning, where they help in the kitchen, clean the toilets and buildings, chop firewood, and perform most of the other daily maintenance of the buildings and grounds. Each day includes two hours of “Instruction”, during which staff, and campers, propose, organize, and present discussions and seminar-type presentations on topics from computers to astronomy, to history, to art, music, etc. The campers also spend two hours each day on “Construction”, which includes campers themselves conceiving, planning, organizing, and recruiting colleagues to build projects for the improvement and beautification of the camp sites. Each evening has an evening program, typically revolving around the various cultures represented by the campers. A drama production is done once per week, with campers doing the directing, costumes, set design, and acting. A weekly newspaper is produced and edited by campers, with two editors assigned each week. And the climax of each week is the Saturday evening “Council”, where the entire camp–campers and staff, solemnly convene around a large bonfire in the middle of the forest, and hear talks concerning philosophical or moral topics which the speakers feel merit serious discussion. And we still make time for swimming, tennis, soccer, hiking trips, and other more traditional summer pursuits.
Alumni of CRS (who now number nearly 6000) have gone on to careers in the professions, academia, public policy, the arts, diplomacy (including several Ambassadors to the US), clergy, non profits, etc. Many have been inspired by the CRS experience to enlarge their horizons beyond what they would otherwise have been. The continuing engagement and substantial volunteer effort of hundreds of alumni throughout the world who devote time and financial resources to making sure that CRS is sustained for future generations is a testament to the large impact the program has had on so many of us.