From being a preschool mom to a part-time employee, Beth Segal has worked all the way through the Philadelphia JCC system.
As Beth Segal begins the process of settling in as the new director of the JCC Camps at Medford and assistant director of Katz JCC in Cherry Hill, it quickly becomes clear that this isn’t the first time she been thrown into the deep end of the pool.
Fortunately, she really knows how to swim, having been proficient enough to be a part of four straight championship teams at Council Rock High, before continuing her natatorial ways at East Stroudsburg State.
A few years later — as the Bensalem-based mother of two young boys — she took the plunge that would shape her professional life. “I went to the Klein branch and put my older one in preschool and took my younger one to the babysitting room and I would go swim,” recalled Segal, who still lives in the same house as she did then. “A couple of weeks later, the aquatics director follows me into the locker room and says, ‘Where’d you learn how to swim that way? I need someone to teach swimming lessons two days a week. Are you interested?’ I said, ‘Sure.’ That was 28 years ago.”
Over the ensuing near three decades, Beth Segal has just about done it all in various capacities for the area JCCs. From teaching swimming, she became aquatics director at Klein JCC, followed by a stint as the organization’s health and education director, followed by other positions including JCC Maccabi Games director. Most recently, she served as executive director of Kaiserman JCC in Wynnewood.
“I’ve been like the JCCs’ poster child,” she laughed. “From being a preschool mom and part-time employee, I’ve worked all the way through the Philadelphia JCC system.”
And now, even though she’s crossed the Delaware into South Jersey, she’s still very much at home. Especially since day camp has always had a special meaning to her, going back to when she worked at Sesame Rockwood Day Camp in Blue Bell. The routine then was to bring Brian, now 30, and Craig, now 28, with her to camp for the day. Then she’d drive to the Steak & Ale just off the turnpike exit near home, where she’d meet her husband, Ira, to do the “exchange,’’ before heading off to work at the JCC.
“Then I’d get up the next day and do it all over again,” she added. “I worked at Sesame Rockwood for 11 years when I was working at the JCC at the same time.
“I loved camp and my kids loved camp. So this is the perfect marriage for me of camp and being in the JCC.”
The JCC Camps at Medford, which encompasses 120 acres in the Pine Barrens, with five pools, a splash park, zip line, petting zoo and a four-acre lakefront, isn’t your ordinary day camp. Not when you’re dealing with 1,400 campers ages 3 to 14, 600 staffers — including 100 lifeguards — 42 buses to transport the kids and a full kosher kitchen to prepare 2000 lunches a day supervised by a mashgiach.
“It’s a big operation,” Segal concurred, who’s been on the job five weeks. “It’s broken down by age so each group within the camp has age-appropriate activities. Each pool is geared toward the age of each kid. We have arts and crafts, all kinds of sports, science, adventure, a sledding slope and a rope challenge course.
“We’re in heavy-duty recruiting right now. We do camp fairs, parlor meetings in homes. We have a lot of people who call the center who want to do tours. And Sunday, the JCC had an open house for membership.”
Those who sign up get a special camp discount, plus use of all the JCC facilities. Not only that, but once camp gets underway, members are entitled to use the lakefront during weekends.
The next step: hiring the staff, which likely won’t be completed for a couple of months. There’s also putting together the programming for all those campers over the eight-week camp period — there is a three-week minimum requirement for campers — which offers plenty of options for families if they wish to take vacations in the middle of the session and then return.
When you’re in charge of such a massive facility, there’s plenty of preparation to be done. “We’ll be looking at the facility and seeing what upgrades need to be made,” said Segal, who will soon be off to visit son Brian, who lives in Shanghai. “We’re in the woods — in the Pine Barrens — so there’s a lot of maintenance and upkeep.
“Historically, we have a very good retention rate. Once people start, they stay all the way through. So far, in the five weeks I’ve been here, I don’t think I’ve met anybody that hasn’t had a connection to this camp, whether their kids went or they went or worked at camp.”
On this chilly day in January, Segal can’t help but look towards a hot summer day in June. “I get to be a kid again all summer,” she said with a smile. “I get to wear shorts and my baseball cap, and go on the zip line and paddle in the canoe. It’ll be great.” More important, though, will be making sure all those campers have a great summer, too. “I’m waiting for that first day when 1,400 kids get off the buses with smiling faces who can’t wait for their summer to start,” said Segal, who lives at home with son Craig — who works at the Klein JCC — after becoming a widow 11 years ago. “There’s something to be said to know you are creating memories — memories and experiences that will last forever. It’s been wonderful meeting all the directors of the different camps and listening to how passionate they are. How they love being with those kids.
“Summer can’t come soon enough.”
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