Katie Hausman, 34, grew up in the Lehigh Valley, attended the University of Central Florida and spent more than eight years working at the Levite Jewish Community Center in Birmingham, Alabama.
But after spending so much time away from home, she’s returning to Pennsylvania.
Hausman is the new director of summer programming for Camp Kef at the Kaiserman JCC in Wynnewood.
The Manayunk resident is not exactly moving home to the Lehigh Valley. But it’s close enough. Her parents still live outside Bethlehem; her brother lives in Philadelphia; and her sister lives in New York City. For years, the family held weekend gatherings that Hausman could only occasionally attend. She would FaceTime in when she couldn’t be there, but it wasn’t the same.
“I always joked that I had family FOMO (Fear of Missing Out),” she said.
Hausman also loves the Jewish camping field and sees potential at Camp Kef. She grew up at Pinemere Camp in the Poconos. It gave her the confidence to go on with her adventure in life, which in a way led to her journey to the South, she said.
The new director wants to help kids gain the same confidence. She also hopes to help Kef build its reputation after the camp recently gained accreditation from the American Camp Association.
“People who go through the camp experience often reference it as a pivotal experience in their childhood,” Hausman said.
During the search process for a new camp director, Alan Scher, the CEO of the Kaiserman JCC, got a call from Betzy Lynch, the former executive director of the Levite JCC in Birmingham. Lynch knew Hausman from their time together at the Levite JCC.
She told Scher, “You have to hire Katie,” the Kaiserman CEO recalled.
Scher called Hausman “immediately,” he said.
“After I connected with Katie, I knew that there weren’t going to be other candidates for this position,” Scher said. “Katie stood out as having all the competencies we were looking for in our new position of senior director of summer programs.”
Hausman had experience in camping, marketing and fundraising, according to Scher. She could be more than just a camp director.
“My board president talks to me about how part of my job is to upgrade and invest in talent at our institution, and Katie is the personification of that,” he said.
Scher also liked Hausman’s “energy and enthusiasm.”
“A camp director isn’t just any kind of position. Camp is the personification of joy. The personification of summer. This nostalgic concept of summer,” he explained. “A lot of that depends upon a director who’s able to harness and inspire a big team.”
Hausman said she’s looking forward to bringing shlichim, or Israeli emissaries, to Camp Kef this summer. She believes that since Oct. 7, it’s more important than ever for kids to learn about Israel. She’s also excited to teach the campers Jewish values such as tikkun olam and to welcome in Shabbat every Friday afternoon.
All those are existing Camp Kef activities. At the same time, Hausman has her own plans. The new director wants to launch specialty camps to help kids develop skills. Older campers will be able to tailor their schedules to their interests, according to the new director.
“Grow it, diversity it, give older campers customization,” she said.
Hausman also wants to “utilize outside resources” to bring in trainers for staff members. In addition, she plans on finding ways to bring staff members together so they can get to know each other.
“I find when your camp staff knows each other and is friendly with each other, they just work better,” she said.
Hausman recognizes that she’s walking into a good situation. Camp Kef welcomes about 550 campers each summer. She just wants to make it better, too.
“I’m not necessarily looking to be the biggest camp around or the camp with the shiniest facilities. I’m looking to provide a warm, welcoming and inclusive environment for all children so they can feel like a part of our community,” Hausman said. “As a nonprofit, we don’t have unlimited financial resources, but our commitment lies in being the premier day camp, delivering an exceptional program.”