The Path that Camp Created

Joanie Kaltseis, Teacher at the Saul and Carole Zabar Nursery School at JCC Manhattan

The summer after my first year in college, my mom asked if I would work at a summer camp so that she wouldn't have to worry about my little sister, Amy, going on the bus alone or being alone all day.  She was the youngest of the five of us, and that was the summer she turned four.  Since I'm the oldest, and always had a special relationship with my baby sister, I thought it might be a fun way for us to bond before I had to leave again for the next school year.

That summer changed my life.  Not only did I get to enjoy a special routine with my youngest sibling, where we would stop off at a local bakery for coffee (for me), and a muffin (for her) on our way to camp in each morning, but I also got to know a lot of amazing educators and families.  I worked a long day -- the half-day four year old program, with bus duty for mid-day dismissal and then came back to work with a five year old group in the afternoons.  I had never been as physically exhausted in my life (I would literally come home and go to bed at 5:00 pm!)  I had also never been as mentally exhilarated or had so much fun in one day.  I made real connections with teachers, who suggested I follow through with what seemed to be a natural calling.  Shortly after that first summer, I changed career paths and transferred to a different university.  I decided that my heart was in working with children -- very young children -- and building inclusive classrooms dedicated to helping all children grow and learn.

I enrolled at NYU in their Early Childhood and Special Education program, and the rest, as they say, is history.  That first summer brought me to where  am right now, and I've enjoyed working here at the JCC in the Saul and Carole Zabar Nursery School since 2007.  My time at camp helped me to land here, in the middle of a rich community, where both my family and I have had the chance to meet so many wonderful families and people and forge deep relationships. Oh, and that first group of campers?  They'll graduate high school this June.