Golden Slipper Club, Charities and Camp is 101 years old. So when new Executive Director Marti Berk thinks about the organization’s future, she thinks in centuries.
What will the next 100 years look like? What should the Bala Cynwyd-based charity prioritize now?
For Berk, the answer is simple: camp. The Golden Slipper Camp in Stroudsburg welcomed around 200 kids between the ages of seven and 15 last summer. And that was only at 80% capacity due to COVID.
At the same time, a Foundation for Jewish Camp report earlier this year found that North American Jewish camps were almost back to pre-pandemic levels. Camps that serve Philadelphia-area Jews were exceeding those numbers.
The future of Jewish institutions, like synagogues, may be uncertain. But the future of Jewish camping looks bright.
Berk understands that.
“Camp is our signature program,” she said. “And that’s where we need to focus a lot of our energy and fundraising.”
The 55-year-old started in her position in July. She replaced interim director Steve Rosenberg, also the board chair of the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and a former Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia executive. It was a part of Rosenberg’s job description to help find her.
Rosenberg already knew Berk from her 18 years as delegation head for the Greater Philadelphia area at the JCC Maccabi Games. The interim director’s children played in the games. From that experience, he felt like he knew her both personally and professionally.
Personally, he found her to be “fun” and “funny.” Professionally, he thought she was a “builder” with “energy” and “patience.” In general, Rosenberg saw Berk as “creative” and “a doer.”
And that’s exactly what Golden Slipper needed.
Even though it’s an organization that started in 1922, it needs to redefine itself to stay relevant. For almost two decades, Berk led marketing and community engagement efforts at the JCCs of Greater Philadelphia and the Kaiserman JCC. For the last five years, she served as director of operations for Mesivta High School in Bala Cynwyd.
“I helped to build things like security and facilities and grants. Internal communications, marketing, things like that,” Berk said.
But as time went on, she wanted the big challenge.
“To step into the No. 1 seat,” she said.
“What’s going on with Golden Slipper is right up my alley,” the executive director added.
Berk envisions a “philanthropic base to support the camp.” Right now, Golden Slipper Camp is about three-quarters full, and 90% of the campers are on scholarship.
Berk wants to bring in more families and to be able to continuously upgrade the property in the Poconos. She hopes to eventually market it “outside the Philadelphia area.”
“We’re in Stroudsburg. I fully intend to go up to the Lehigh Valley, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area,” she said. “Why aren’t their kids here? It’s probably because they don’t know about it.”
Berk believes that, in the digital age, camp is more important than ever. Parents want their kids engaged and off screens.
“Nowadays, if a kid is home, they’re sitting in front of a screen,” she said. “And parents want them out.”
Camp is the foundational piece, but Berk is also attentive to Slipper’s other programs.
A group called Human Needs and Services works with Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia to offer small grants to families in need. If one needs a washer and dryer, the grant can cover it.
Another group called the Passover League serves a similar purpose but for the holiday specifically. If there are low-income Jews who want to host a seder, the league can help fund it.
And each year, Slipper hosts a community-wide Passover event. Last year’s was at KleinLife in Northeast Philadelphia.
Berk is already setting meetings with other community organizations to see how they can work together, too. She plans to meet with leaders from the Kehillah of Lower Merion and Jewish Adoption and Family Care Options, a nonprofit organization.
When Berk helped run the Kaiserman JCC, she recognized that synagogues in the area held their own Purim events. So instead, she organized a big one for them all at the JCC’s Wynnewood campus. By year two, they needed a valet service to bring in people from the parking lot.
Berk wants to look for similar opportunities at Golden Slipper.
“I’m reaching out to all the involved members of our organization to see, what are their interests? What do they want to be involved in?” she said.