Camp Rising Sun is an invitation-only, international, full-scholarship, leadership summer program for students aged 14–16. Operated by the Louis August Jonas Foundation (LAJF), a non-profit organization, the program lasts for seven weeks. There is a boys' facility in Red Hook, New York and a separate girls' facility in Clinton, New York, about 90 miles (140 km) north of New York City in the Hudson River Valley. Participants come from all over the world and are chosen by merit. Instead of being asked to pay for tuition, campers are requested to pass along to someone else the benefits they gained.
There are alumni organizations in numerous countries with more than 5,000 alumni around the world. Camp Rising Sun alumni include a United Nations Under-Secretary General, a president of Harvard University, a winner of the Intel Science Talent Search, a Foreign Minister of South Korea, two former Israeli ambassadors and an Under Secretary of State in the Carter administration.
In 1996, a group of Danish and other European alumni founded Camp Rising Sun Europe for young women. Organized and maintained by the George E. Jonas Foundation and the Camp Rising Sun Alumni Association of Denmark, the program is located in Stendis, Region Midtjylland, Denmark. Located on 176 acres in upstate New York, Camp Rising Sun (CRS) is one of the longest continuously running summer programs in the United States. It was founded just after the stock market crash in 1929 by philanthropist George E. Jonas with the mission to "develop in promising young people from diverse backgrounds a lifelong commitment to sensitive and responsible leadership for the betterment of their communities and world."
The son of a successful businessman, Jonas grew up in privilege and wealth, but was troubled about the advantages he had in comparison to others. He grew dismayed at the world. Pondering what he could do to bring a measure of stability and peace to the world, he reasoned that hope rested in the youth of the world and he began to consider what might encourage, stimulate and motivate them. He got the idea to start a camp, one that "is interested not merely in the boy, but in the man the boy will become." He set up a foundation, naming it after his father; the foundation runs the camp. For decades, Jonas personally interviewed many prospective campers and he was fondly called by all by his nickname, "Freddie".
After World War II, the program was expanded to include youth from every region of the world. In 1947, the first two African American boys were invited to attend and 1989, a girls' program was established. Jonas remained closely associated with the program until the time of his death in 1978. Campers from outside the United States have an opportunity to stay with an American family or with US campers or alumni, enabling them to experience what it's like to live in America.
The selection of participants is highly competitive and is based on a candidate's potential leadership ability, intellect (demonstrated academic achievement and ability to think critically), character, and individuality (developed abilities and interests). Camp alumni are generally responsible for selecting new campers from their countries, but in some cases, government officials such as the Minister of Education or an ambassador, do the selecting (or did, in decades past).
The program is neither religious nor political, but with campers coming from all over the United States, Europe, Asia, Africa and elsewhere, politics and religion are just two of the many topics that come up for discussion.
Camp Rising Sun's reputation is built on the conviction that there is much to be learned through experience and interaction with those from other cultures and nations. A boy from Nigeria may ask a boy from Alabama about racism in the United States or while working together in the kitchen, someone from Palestine may share personal experiences of life in the midst of the Middle East conflict. Campers help with all aspects of the camp, including meal preparation and maintenance, and work together on intellectual or cultural projects of their own choosing. They also conceive of and carry out landcaping projects to improve the camp, such as building a Finnish sauna or a Japanese rock garden. The eight weeks at CRS become a life-transforming experience. Alumni often choose professions of service and stay involved with the camp for decades after, if not the rest of their lives. One CSR alumnus, Herbert Hall (b. 1923), wrote in an unpublished memoir,
“ During the spring semester [of tenth grade at Boys High School], completely without my knowledge, I was recommended to an organization called the Walden Foundation, which operated a boys’ camp in upstate New York called Camp Rising Sun. Its founder, George Jonas, visited us at home and spoke with Aunty and me about attending the camp, whose charter was to provide a broadening experience for boys aged 12 to 17 from varied backgrounds and cultures. I became a camper for the summers of 1936 and 1937, and the experience had a marked influence on the rest of my life. ”
Nurturing tomorrow's leaders
“ The world desperately needs men of good will, men with vision, men who will not be daunted by heavy odds against them.”
With understanding adults outside the family circle, a boy can learn to stretch far.
— George E. Jonas, Founder
The Louis August Jonas Foundation is guided by the philosophy of the founder. The camp's mission is to "develop in promising young people from diverse backgrounds a lifelong commitment to sensitive and responsible leadership for the betterment of their communities and world." In following Jonas' mission, the camp nurtures leadership skills and the training comes with practical experience. Each camper gets the chance to be camp leader for one day. Called the sachem (a word that means an Algonquian "chief"), the camper is in charge. Feedback, both from the staff and peers, is given to further gain from the experience. Staff members, typically graduate students or teachers, provide support.
The goal of the program is that participants will integrate what they learn at Camp Rising Sun into their lives and pass it along to others. After the two months of sharing and working together, Jonas wanted campers to return to their communities the benefits they had gained. He said, "We ask that the boys return to life, some day and in some way, the good they have received from it. So, we do ask a price, and its a rather high one." One sophomore in Charleston, South Carolina came home with an idea to improve race relations that he wanted to propose to the Youth Services agency in his city.
reating a community
An international community is created with just one or two teenagers from countries as disparate as Finland, Poland, Ethiopia, France, Japan, Ecuador, Hungary, Australia, Italy, Nigeria, Iceland, Indonesia, Israel, Lithuania, Germany, Bulgaria, Ghana and Malasia with youngsters from all across the United States. Campers live together in tents (at the US camps) and in rooms at the European camp. Bunking assignments are changed every two weeks, so that each student shares accommodations with 16 different young people over the course of a summer, during the course of which, he or she is exposed to many different cultures and individuals. Dining hall table assignments are changed weekly, further supporting the opportunity to learn about others and make new friendships. By the time the campers leave, they have friends all over the world.
After two months of exposure to many other nationalities, international issues became personal concerns. "It's not just Iran anymore. It's my friend, Sepideh, who lives in Iran," said one camper after her summer at CRS. Many of these friendships continue through the decades and there are periodic world reunions, each time meeting in a different country.
Jonas said, "Schools give you technical training, but they don't necessarily teach you how to think" and set up his camp to supply that need.
While CRS includes swimming, boating, hiking, ping pong, soccer, basketball, tennis and other sports, its focus is providing opportunities for intellectual growth, for development of leadership skills, and appreciation of the value of diversity. The program challenges campers to try new things, but also offers them the option of participating or not, a freedom some have never experienced before. Campers work together in peer-led teams to take care of the daily maintenance needs of the camp. Counselors are skilled in a variety of disciplines from lifesaving to Japanese wrestling to filmmaking. There is instruction by staff, visiting alumni, guests, or other students on subjects like international affairs, poetry, theater, microscopes, filmmaking, creative writing, landscaping, history, music, art, drama, philosophy, ethics, and nature. Three weekly newspapers, written and produced by campers, document the comedic, artistic, and overall progress of the camp.
Students work on projects they conceive, plan and manage, both individually and in peer-led groups. There are evening artistic and intellectual programs, most often planned and executed by campers. At the end of July, there is a dramatic or musical production, involving the entire camp community. Each Saturday evening, there is a large campfire, at which campers discuss their different countries and cultures, about global issues, prejudice and hate and hear presentations, sometimes by outside lecturers.
There is also time are available each day for campers to pursue their own activity, be it sports, the arts, reading, an educational pursuit, swimming in the pool or just talking with other campers. Campers are also encouraged to write down their innermost thoughts, which in earlier decades, were filed with the camp and sent back to the former camper when he reached 21.
A camper's journal from 2006 provides insight into a typical day at Camp Rising Sun.
“ After waking up at 8 a.m., I had breakfast, attended morning assembly, and worked in the kitchen during teamwork time. For project time, a few campers and I mapped out a plan for a garden that we hoped to plant on cabin hill. After lunch and rest hour, I went to an instruction called "Words Words Words" where a counselor Amy (Utah) and about seven campers practiced creative writing and poetry.
During free time I went swimming with a bunch of other campers. It was Hester's (The Netherlands) birthday, so dinner became a celebration. I received five letters, and since it's camp tradition, I had to sing to receive them. For the evening program we did Scottish dancing. It was a fun-filled day! After tent check at 10 p.m., I stayed awake and talked with Sepideh (Iran), Anissa (New York), Su Bin (Korea) and Annalisa (Utah), the hiking counselor.
Effects of the current financial crisis
Because of the worldwide financial crisis that began in 2007, there was no camp program held in 2009 in the United States and the European program was cancelled for 2010.
CRS campers become members of an international alumni association which is supportive of their evolving interests in college and careers. CRS alumni have gone on to attend some of the world's finest colleges and universities. The LAJF website has a College Roster which connects young alumni with older alumni who are attending or have attended a broad range of colleges, universities and professional schools. Many alumni later speak of their experiences at CRS, such as when writing their college essays. LAJF also supports a college scholarship program. While the Rising Sun experience is measured in weeks, the effects of the experience continue to develop and to play out over decades.