Since 1931, a group of men have gathered at the B'nai B'rith Camp in August to raise funds to support the BB Camp, a Jewish summer camp for kids. Basically, like going "to camp" for grownups, the men stay in the cabins with their friends, playing cards, swimming in the pool, tasting tequila, playing basketball, bocce, tennis and golf and honor a "Man of the Year." While having fun at the invitation-only event, the men raise the funds needed for support and upkeep of the BB Camp's youth camp program. B'nai Brith Men's Camp Association has been awarded The Association of Fundraising Professional's Outstanding Volunteer Group Award.
The BB Camp itself was established in 1921 by the B'nai B'rith Lodge (now the Mittleman Jewish Community Center) as a Jewish camping experience for all kids regardless of religious, ethnic, cultural and financial backgrounds. The camp property sits on the east side of Devil's Lake in Lincoln City near Otis in Lincoln County and was donated by Oregon Governor Julius Meier in 1928.
At their B'nai Brith Men's Camp Association (BBMCA) summer retreat, fundraising is held cabin-by-cabin where leaders announce their gifts. In 2018, 150 BBMCA campers raised over $400,000 where the spirt of philanthropy is contagious. These donors and their families are leading a movement to raise $13.2 million to completely rebuild the camp in 2021 for the 100th anniversary of the historic camp. To date, $10.8 million has been raised during this 10-year Second Century Capital Campaign. BBMCA is a volunteer-only fundraiser.
Over the past 10 years, because of the BBMCA's efforts, BB Camp enrollment has increased from 360 campers each summer to 618 in 2018. Moreover, the camp is succeeding in helping local children with issues relating to poverty. After seeing local children hanging out in the Chinook Winds Casino Arcade, Executive Director Michelle Koplan and Chairman Irving Potter started a day camp program for Lincoln County youth in 2006. Set at $120 per week with full scholarships available, over 2,000 local day campers can now enjoy camp experiences of ziplining, rope obstacle courses, pool play, hydro-tubing, arts and crafts and life skills from talented staff who teach self-confidence and inspire leadership.
At the helm, leading the fundraising efforts are Chairman Potter and President Kyle Rotenberg of BBMCA and its subsidiary organization B'nai B'rith Camp, LLC which oversees all finances relating to the camp. For the last 10 years, Potter and Rotenberg have encouraged other leaders to create a strong base of 181 volunteers on 20 committees who support the work of the camp's 20 full-time staff members. In the last 89 years, there have been only six leaders of BBMCA; Potter and Rotenberg took over from Milt Margulis who served for 30 years.
"We say it took two of us to replace Milt. But, to raise money for all those years, it was more than just Milt. There were many leaders thru the years who have put the camp together to raise the funds. So, when Irving and I took over, we split in duties," Rotenberg said. "I would head up putting together our one-week camp and Irving would handle dealing with the foundations and the talking to the donors. We like to say I am the party planner and he is adult supervision. The lines have been blurred and I go with him to all the conferences and we both talk to donors. He was a much better negotiator with the split in duties, but I enjoy it all."
BBMCA has one more fundraising event besides the August encampment; the other is an annual golf tournament where they raised $88,000 with a paddle raise.
"The campers are just a great group of guys and they know why we are here. The trick for us is not how to get them to give money but rather how do we ensure that the men's camp will continue on for another 89 years," Rotenberg said. "It's challenging getting the campers to increase their donation every year. I asked Milt 'How do I figure out what to give to charity? He responded, 'Figure out how much you can afford to donate, then give a little bit more.' The additional part is the true charitable part because it comes from the heart."
Because of these fundraising efforts, BB Camp is making a difference in today's youth. There are hundreds of stories of children in bleak living conditions who found confidence at BB Camp and paved a way to improve their situation. BB Camp is partner with the Youth Development Coalition of Lincoln County which recently received a grant to fund reading specialists at BB Camp. BB Camp also received multiple grants from the Oregon Department of Education to establish off-site meal delivery for eight weeks in the summer at multiple low-income housing communities for children in Lincoln County.
"Were it not for the long history of Men's Camp, leaders like Irving Potter and Kyle Rotenberg would not have emerged and if it were not for the willingness of Irving and Kyle to step into a leadership role, BB Camp would simply not be the organization it is today," said BB Camp Development Director Aaron Pearlman. "There is no way to duplicate the culture of philanthropy that grows from that kind of dedication. We can't duplicate it, but we can honor it."
Potter says he is simply carrying on his family's tradition. His father Ed Potter attended the first BB Camp in 1921. At the time, camp cost $5 and Potter and his two siblings attended camp after his parents, who lived in the Jewish ghetto in South Portland struggled to raise the funds.
"My father said he got the better end of the deal and he felt it was important to continue making contributions. My father went to BB Camp as either a youth camper or with the Men's Camp for close to 70 year," said Potter.
Potter is keeping his family's legacy with years of attendance himself, six years as a youth camper, four as counselor and 44 years with the Men's Camp. Rotenberg has attended BB Camp for 42 years, starting as a child and calls his experiences a "simple matter of love."
"I love to go down to camp and see the incredible spirit of the kids at camp and I love to stand up at the beginning of men's camp, right before we start Friday night services and look out at the faces of the men; then I look up to the sky and think about all those that attended this camp, some for over 60 years," Rotenberg said. "what they contributed in money and sweat for the children of BB Camp makes me feel content and become overwhelmed with emotion. I love that Irving and I have had a major part in all this and, hopefully, the legacy we leave will continue this camp for another 100 years and beyond."
Quality local journalism takes time and money, which comes, in part, from paying readers. If you enjoy articles like this one, please consider supporting us.
(It costs just a few cents a day.)