Jacob (Jake) Kavalar is a man with a dual mission: he is the new director of Camp Yofi, the Merage JCC’s resident camp in the San Bernardino Mountains, and the new director of the JCC’s teen center. The Milwaukee, Wisconsin, native comes to the JCC from Camp Takodah-Cheshire YMCA where he was in the management trainee program. He has had eight years of camp supervisory experience at Camp Interlaken JCC in Wisconsin, starting as a counselor and working his way up to counselor in training director.
Orange County Jewish Life caught up with Kavalar, who started his new job on February 11.
What made you decide to become a camp director? I’ve been involved in camping for more than 20 years. I started college with the intention of becoming an engineer, decided it wasn’t what I wanted, took time off, evaluated my life and decided that camp was the one constant that resonated with me. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, earning a degree in resource management with a focus in youth programming and camp management. Then I went to Israel for 5 months as a volunteer with the Israel Pathways program, where I taught English to middle school students and worked in the national parks. I developed strong feelings for Israel, which I also wanted to communicate to campers.
What brought you to Camp Yofi?
I had been at a YMCA camp trainee position that wasn’t going to continue. I applied for something else through the Jewish Community Center Association (JCCA) website and was referred to this job. Then things happened pretty quickly. I saw this incredible facility and the beautiful camp, and I knew I wanted to be here. I also thought it would be great to work at a “young” camp where we could develop traditions together.
What are some of your goals for Camp Yofi? As a lifelong camper, I appreciate what can be gained through that experience: independence, confidence, social skills and life skills. I want to connect with campers, providing them with opportunities for development of self-esteem and confidence through social interaction and new life experiences while having fun. I want to help Camp Yofi grow and bring more Judaism into its traditions. I was happy to see that Camp Yofi had adopted some traditions from Camp Interlaken. I want it to be at maximum capacity, have more Jewish programming and have an Israel trip for some of the older campers as part of the experience that they can then share with other campers.
What makes Camp Yofi special? Camp Yofi’s beautiful location in Angelus Oaks, in the San Bernardino Mountains, gives us scenic hiking, camping and biking trails. In addition to the natural beauty of the mountains, our camp also has a heated swimming pool, archery range, climbing tower, ropes course, zip line, mountain biking, outdoor basketball courts, volleyball court, arts and crafts, athletic fields and use of Jenks Lake for canoeing, kayaking, and fishing. It’s a great experience to be out in the woods, away from the city, in a beautiful environment where people can make new friends and create great memories. The caring, talented and amazing staff is what makes Camp Yofi a special and unique experience year after year. Our highly motivated and experienced team is committed to providing every camper with a safe and fun summer. All Camp Yofi staff members participate in pre-camp intensive training that follows ACA mandated standards and includes child development, CPR, First Aid and AED certification, along with age-appropriate programming. With a nurturing environment and a ratio of five campers to one staff member, each camper receives the individual attention he or she needs while away from home. Each day has a well-balanced schedule, so campers get to experience something new every day.
What is the teen center? The JCC has a teen council. Kids have to apply to be on it, and they meet once a week for an hour to plan events twice a month. There’s a social-based event and a social action-based event. The first program on Saturday, March 16, was six hours of fun at Boomer’s in Irvine for $25, including full use of the place and food. We hoped for 60 teens and got more. The next event is April 6.
What do you do for fun? I like to play disc golf, go water skiing and downhill skiing and be involved in all kinds of sports. I’m glad I can be outside more and be more active in southern California.
For additional information about Camp Yofi and the teen center, please contact Kavalar at email@example.com or call (949) 435-3400. More information is also available on the website at www.campyofi.com.