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The Next Mark Zuckerberg? Meet the Kid Crowdfunding His Way to Summer Camp

6 minute read
Rabbi Jason Miller is an entrepreneur, educator and writer. A social media expert, Rabbi Miller is a popular speaker and writer on technology and its effect on the Jewish world. He also writes for the Huffington Post, for the Jewish Techs blog and the monthly "Jews in the Digital Age" column for the Detroit Jewish News. Rabbi Miller is the president of Access Computer Technology, a computer tech support, web design and social media marketing company in Michigan. He won the 2012 Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award from the West Bloomfield Chamber of Commerce and is a winner of the Jewish Influencer Award from the National Jewish Outreach Program.

It’s a known fact that many Jewish kids head out to overnight camp each summer. In fact, Jeremy J. Fingerman, the CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, believes that in any one summer, as many as 11% of the approximately 700,000 Jewish kids ages 7-17 in North America are enrolled in a Jewish camp. These are no longer simply the traditional overnight summer camps of previous generations in which campers and counselors swim, sail, and sing Jewish songs by the campfire while roasting s’mores.

Today’s listing of Jewish summer camps includes dozens of “specialty camps” that focus on specific interest groups like science and technology, the culinary arts, health and wellness, and sports. These camps, which run anywhere from one to eight-week sessions, require a significant financial investment from parents who want their children to enjoy meaningful experiences over the summer vacation. Financial scholarships and significant subsidy programs like the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s BunkConnect help defray a portion of the tuition costs, but money is still an impediment for many families.

One pre-teen in the Bay Area was so determined to attend a specialty Jewish camp this summer that he recently launched his own crowdfunding campaign. When 11-year-old Cash Ashkinos of San Francisco learned about Camp Inc., a Colorado-based overnight camp with a strong focus on entrepreneurship, he knew he was destined to attend. The problem was the cost, so Cash is hoping to fund his summer at Camp Inc. by raising contributions through the website Indiegogo.

Cash first learned about Camp Inc., which opened in the summer of 2014, when the camp’s director, Josh Pierce, visited his synagogue’s Hebrew school. Cash was so intrigued that he asked the director to contact his mother. Tanya Schevitz, who works for the Jewish think tank Reboot, knew right away that Camp Inc. was the type of camp that her son would love.

“Cash has some learning differences and the social and professional skills that he will learn at Camp Inc. will really help him navigate the coming pressures of high school, college, and the work world,” Tanya says. “Some might think it is a little early to start thinking about those things, but in working with Cash on his issues, I’ve learned throughout the years that it takes time to build real skills when you are challenged. Some things that may come innately to others have to be taught very intentionally. Since Camp Inc. is a Jewish camp, I know that Cash will be taught values about giving back and community that are important to our family.”

Schevitz knew that she and her husband wouldn’t be able to afford to send Cash to Camp Inc., and says that she was afraid to break that news to him. She knew it would be more difficult than telling him he couldn’t have the latest toy or gadget. But something clicked when Pierce suggested a crowdfunding website like Indiegogo could be just the avenue Cash needed to raise the money.

“It just made sense,” Tanya says. “It’s exciting to think about activating the power of community through the internet in this way to help Cash. He loves everything about computers and the digital world of today and so it is a perfect fit to take his initiative of raising money online. It is also a great way for him to see the concept of ‘it takes a village’ in action when people he doesn’t know are contributing to help him get to camp and do something he cares about.”

Crowfunding websites like Indiegogo are more commonly used to raise seed capital for startup companies, unique new products, and grassroots ventures. Indiegogo Life, which Cash is utilizing, aims to help average people raise money online for a cause. In his appeal for funding on the website, Cash writes, “Camp Inc. provides kids the opportunity to work in a team to create a business idea and present it to a team of potential investors. It would really help me learn how to be more comfortable being in front of a group and improve my public speaking.” He continues, “I would also meet new friends and fellow aspiring entrepreneurs from across the country. I sometimes struggle with social interactions and Camp Inc. would help me build confidence and independence as well as the social and leadership skills I need in my goal of becoming an innovator.”

Cash is already the recipient of a $1,200 scholarship for Camp Inc., but he still needs another $2,500 to cover the rest of the camp tuition and a roundtrip plane ticket. The creative and entrepreneurial young man states that he’s also planning traditional fundraising methods like holding lemonade stands throughout the spring. His parents are contributing what they can, and he’s applied for financial aid and grants from Camp Inc. and his synagogue.

For his contributors, Cash offers some gifts as a token of his appreciation, like a postcard from camp for those donors who give up to $50, or a custom-made lanyard keychain along with a postcard for those who contribute $100 or more. Should Cash raise more than the amount of funding he needs, he’s offered to contribute any overage back to Camp Inc. for scholarships to help his peers attend this summer.

“Running a campaign like this shows real initiative, creativity, and the ability to show the world you are passionate about something, which is exactly what is needed to be a successful entrepreneur,” Pierce says. “I would love to see other campers raise funds this way because it shows they have a network of people around them that believes in them and really cares to give them this type of experience. Although nonprofit camps typically have scholarship money available, it is not endless. By having campers raise extra funds on their own it lessens the load on the camp’s scholarship fund and allows them to spread the fund over more families.”

Cash is already an eager entrepreneur. With a friend, he’s planning to create a mobile app that teaches algebra through a fun game. He has a love of computer coding and graphic design, and plans to put those skills to work this summer at Camp Inc., when he’ll start his own business with a group of like-minded young entrepreneurs.

Camp Inc. staff will be watching Cash’s crowdfunding campaign very closely and might consider making it a requirement in future years for campers to use the Internet to fund a portion of their camp tuition. No doubt their parents would appreciate the financial assistance, and it also provides an important lesson in startup fundraising for these budding entrepreneurs.

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Write to Jason Miller at rabbijam@gmail.com

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