For many in the Herzl Camp community, Gary Kibort and his always present orange hat are part of the sights and sounds that make Herzl the special place we all know it to be. That’s why the news we are sharing is a strange mix of sadness, comfort and opportunity.
Here’s the news: After 16 years serving Herzl Camp in a variety of roles — including the last nine as Executive Director — Gary will be transitioning to a new role at Herzl Camp in September. We realize for many, they will sadly miss Gary and his day-to-day presence. However, Gary and his orange hat are not going far. Gary will continue to serve as a lead in our operations area, focusing on finances, facilities, and security — which gives us comfort that his experience and wisdom will not be far away from us.
“We are deeply grateful for Gary’s service over the last 16 years,” said Neil Fink, Herzl Camp Association board president. “He has brought so much to the camp experience. His legacy is in his commitment to camper safety, his passion for Israel education, and his tireless work to ensure that Herzl Camp thrives while serving the community in new and innovative ways.”
“Gary’s steady hand helped guide us through this unprecedented pandemic,” Fink continued. “All of us were sad and disappointed that camp closed a few days early because of a spike in covid cases, but it was all so thoughtfully planned and managed. Herzl was able to provide the camp experience we all so cherish thanks to Gary and his team.”
Gary always saw the opportunity Herzl held and built upon the opportunity. During Gary’s tenure in the top job, Herzl Camp redefined the role of Executive Director while rebuilding and expanding the facility, eliminating operating and capital debt, and building out a year-round program serving children, families, and adults. In the past five years, Herzl Camp has added extensive programming opportunities, including weekend getaways for families, adult camp weekends, and skill-building specialty camps for children and teens, as well as a retreat and simcha program which allows the full community to enjoy Herzl’s facilities.
“Developing our Israel education program with our Israeli Camper program, partnering with Onward Israel for an Israel-based pre-summer internship for our college-age staff, and a memorable family trip to Israel–these accomplishments are so personally meaningful to me.” Kibort said. “Arriving in Sderot and being surrounded by Israeli Herzl alumni was powerful! Those programs as well as increasing our scholarship awards to $350,000 and creating such a beautiful, well-planned, well-maintained facility are particular points of pride for me.”
“None of those things happen without the support and inspiration of the Herzl community,” Kibort added. “At this point in my life, I’m ready to open the leadership role to new ideas, new vision, and spend a little more of my summers with family and friends… maybe catch a few Twins games, too.”
“With this transition in
roles for Gary, the Herzl community is really getting the best of all worlds,” Jim Shear, president of the Herzl Camp Foundation said. “We will be able to leverage Gary’s experience and deep knowledge of our organization’s history and needs, while opening the future up to the growth and innovation that new leadership can bring.”
After Gary informed Herzl leadership in June that he had decided to transition from his role as executive director, Herzl Camp began our initial search for his successor. In September, a formal search led by Search Committee Co-Chairs Ed Hoffman and Jim Segal will begin. And this is where the new opportunity comes in. “Our goal is to find an individual who can bring new vision and passion to camp while also maintaining Herzl’s strong traditions,” Segal said. “I’m confident we will find a person with the right experience, knowledge and skills to meet the diverse needs of our stakeholders. We will seek someone with a core strength in community outreach and involvement.”
“We have been fortunate to maintain long-term leadership and low turnover,” Fink said. “As we conduct an executive search, our Advancement Director, Holly Guncheon, will assume the role of Interim Executive Director, supported by Camp Director Drea Lear and now Operations Director Gary Kibort. Each of these professionals is committed to a smooth transition and Herzl Camp’s future growth. I am confident they will maintain the high standards and exceptional service that Herzl is known for during this transition.”
“We expect a mix of emotions about this,” Board president Neil Fink concluded. “There is a certain sadness that will be felt as Gary’s daily camp presence changes next season. However, Gary took his opportunity to make his mark at Herzl and make it better for all of us. I have every faith and belief, our next leader will build upon Gary’s success and move us forward in new and innovative ways.”
Stay tuned for additional details of the search process and other Herzl camp news in the coming weeks.
A Personal Note From Executive Director, Gary Kibort:
This is a letter I knew I would someday write, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
It has been a great honor to serve the Herzl community. After long and careful consideration over the last year, I have determined that the summer of 2021 will mark my last season as Herzl’s Executive Director. This position has been an experience of a lifetime.
However, my work at camp is not quite done. Starting in September, I will be returning to my camp roots to focus on our operations, finances, and facilities.
I am very proud of our accomplishments over the past 16 years at Herzl Camp. Working together, camp volunteers, donors, and staff accomplished the impossible by raising funds during a recession and the Madoff crisis to rebuild camp and continued improving camp every year since. In the past 15 years, 95% of camp has been reimagined, carefully planned, and constructed. The new and improved spaces create amazing opportunities for learning and growth at camp, including the ropes courses, waterfront, tayelet, teaching kitchen, farm, and radio station.
During those years, we changed the Ozo program for the better to keep deserving kids at camp and involved. We restructured the scholarship program, reinforcing the blind process, dramatically increasing our available funds, and providing awards to families within four weeks to lessen their worries. We have focused on safety, mental and physical health, and building strong relationships with our neighbors in the Webster area. We have grown our Jewish and Israel education program with creative ideas and partnerships, bringing Israeli children and teens as campers, adding an Israel-based internship program for our summer staff, sharing a Rabbi with Minnesota Hillel, and sending 80 people to Israel as part of Herzl’s Family trip to Israel!
I have done none of this alone.
To all the Staff I have worked with over the years:
I have had the honor to work with three amazing camp directors and even better people: Sam Bloom, Anne Hope, and Drea Lear. Your drive, passion and utmost desire to ensure that the mission of Herzl is fulfilled is unmatched. Your tireless work year-round often goes unnoticed but certainly not unappreciated.
I have more friends in their 20s and 30s than anyone my age should admit to. Our summer staff’s leadership at camp and the larger community is inspiring. I take pride in seeing how you have grown since camp, and your continued love for and connection to camp touches me.
To my Team:
I have worked with many dedicated employees that gave more of themselves to this organization than you can imagine. You have had my back and have always done what is best for Herzl first. We hire you as employees, but you become and remain family. This includes our Webster employees in maintenance, kitchen, marp, office, and security. Your connection to camp may be different from ours but your dedication is no less valuable.
To Drea and Holly, who do so much for camp: I will most certainly miss being the middle person on your teeter-totter. My respect and admiration for the work that you do and the people you are will never diminish. You both know what you mean to me. Any success I have at camp is owed to you.
To Herzl’s Donors:
I will forever be grateful to the donors that have provided funds to accomplish camp’s goals. I was lucky enough to see how those dollars turned into new facilities and programs and allowed countless campers to experience the magic who might have otherwise been unable to attend. Thank you, not just for your donations but for your constant support and friendship. Camp does not happen without your generosity. I am proud that during my time, camp never ran in the red, and we were able to pay off the debt and provide thousands of scholarships. None of this would be possible without you.
To Herzl’s Board, past and present:
Thank you to the Foundation and Association board Presidents, Treasurers, and members who I have worked for over the years. You joined the board because of your sincere love of Herzl, and showed that love by helping camp continue growing from strength to strength. Every other year, I was lucky enough to get a new boss or two. Each of you brought new energy and commitment. I learned to be a better leader and person from each of you. I have always said that the best job is being Past President of Herzl camp. I cherish the continued connections with you once your terms are up.
To my Kids:
G-d blessed me with wonderful kids. Never once did you complain about having your dad walk around camp in an orange hat every day and night. You have always respected the work I have done, and we have made it work. You are a prime example of the good that camp does for kids.
To my Mom:
Both you and Dadz’l have always been proud of the work I do. As Holocaust survivors, you’ve seen how your son’s work in an organization that helps build our Jewish future was a reassuring reminder that no matter what, the Jewish people will keep thriving. I love you and am grateful for your support, always.
To my wife Stacy:
It has been very tough packing up for the past 16 summers and leaving home behind. You gave up and sacrificed a great deal to allow me to follow my passion. You remained supportive and made the best of a tough situation. All of my experiences are made better because of your unrelenting love and encouragement.
To my Friends in the Field:
Especially those of you at Association of Independent Jewish Camps, JCamp180 and Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Executive Leadership Institute, I thank you for the amazing work you do and the support you have provided me and Herzl. I can’t wait to continue our friendship in the years to come.
To the Herzl Community:
Thank you for trusting me with your most treasured gift: your children.You have shown up for me and shared your deep love for Herzl from Webster to Jerusalem and beyond.
The past two years have not been easy. Running a nonprofit without revenue for a year, and following it up with an incredibly challenging summer that ended in sadness and disappointment. But we got through it with the support of our entire Herzl Community and many supportive organizations and individuals.
I strongly believe that it is the right time to move out of the corner office, both for me and for camp. I am confident that there are talented people who will lead camp into the next 20 years, and I promise to do everything possible to support those efforts.
Be well. Stay well. G