Meet Marisa Barnett

When she 11 years old, pint-sized, first-time overnight camper, Marisa Barnett told the director of the New Jersey Y’s Camp Nah-Jee-Wah, that she would someday take her job.

Barnett knew then, that she never wanted to miss a season of Jewish summer camp.

Now 20 and a senior at Towson University, Barnett began that first summer a frightened, young girl who didn’t fit in, and emerged from camp, a happier, more confident young woman.

“I had a lot of anxieties and my parents weren’t sure I could do it,” recalls Barnett. “And there were some set-backs that first summer. Like, I was afraid of thunderstorms. But I had an amazing month, made so many great friends and discovered my love of gymnastics. And I learned how independent I could be,” she adds.

From then on, Barnett attended camp for all eight weeks of the summers. Going to a camp where her differences were appreciated and Judaism was celebrated was hugely important for Barnett, who was often excluded by schoolmates because of her anxieties as well as her observance of Judaism. Being in a Jewish environment sparked Barnett’s interest in Holocaust studies and Jewish song leading and fueled her desire to become more observant at home.

Barnett attributes much of her success at camp to two favorite counselors. “I will never forget them. They saw I was different and they reached out to me,” she says. “Growing up with all my problems was tough, but I knew I had to keep pushing ahead, because once I got through the [school] year, I had camp. I was that kid who started counting down the days until next camp season, the day I went home.”

Two summers ago, Barnett was forced to admit that returning to camp in the Poconos was no longer practical. “I had a difficult withdrawal,” she says.

Fortunately, the withdrawal didn’t last long. Barnett was hired to be a counselor at Camp Milldale. “It was life-changing,” she says. “The opportunities they have given me are beyond my wildest dreams. The director, Amy Bram, saw my passion. She said she saw herself in me. That was amazing to hear.”

This summer, Barnett will have a variety of leadership responsibilities including assisting with Milldale’s music program and bringing “ruach,” (spirit) to the day camp. “Ruach,” says Barnett, “is contagious.” And who better to pass on camp fever than Barnett, one of its all-time biggest fans?

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