Aiding sick kids means the world to caring Neville

NEVILLE Goldschenider channels his energies into supporting children with life-threatening illness.

As Camp Simcha chief executive, he passionately believes that a huge difference can be made to family life with positive, uplifting activities.

"You have to make today's treats more important than tomorrow's treatments," he said.

"Simple programmes make things feel brighter at a tremendously difficult time. It's nothing sophisticated - we just do things in a very organised way."

Meir and Rachely Plancey opened the British branch of Camp Simcha - part of a global network with bases in America and Israel - in London in 1995.

The first paid director targeted to reach more children, Neville was ensconced in youth work for two decades before his appointment.

And he has seen the charity assist families 15-fold since becoming chief executive officer in 2005.

From having 13 children on his arrival, Camp Simcha now reaches more than 350 children from around 100 families.

In 2007, Camp Simcha began helping families in Manchester, Gateshead and Glasgow.

Neville launched a new initiative, Kitty's Smile, named after 15-month Kitty Doerfler who died in 2007, in Leeds last month.

"No Jewish child in the UK should suffer without us," he said. "Leeds is an important part of that journey. Then there is Liverpool, Birmingham and the South Coast."

Born in North London, Neville's parents, Gloria and Sidney, brought their children up in a mainstream United Synagogue home.

"My parents influenced my views on Judaism, but going to London Board's summer school also inspired me Jewishly," he recalled.

"I loved the whole atmosphere and really belonged. I was never wildly happy at Jewish Free School, but at summer camp just fitted in."

Neville left school at 16 and started out in the jewellery trade before working in the medical and surgical supplies industry.

During a four-year period, he worked voluntarily at Jewish youth club SPEC which led to a role as a youth worker with the United Synagogue.

Posts followed at Harold House, Liverpool, the United Synagogue again, then AJY, which merged with Norwood then became part of UJIA.

Neville gained qualifications in the field at the University of Reading and Middlesex University while witnessing the demise of Jewish youth work.

"Jewish youth clubs were closing down and could not attract kids any more," he said.

"They had become passť and unfashionable. Members wanted something more sophisticated. I grew up in an era when you went to a non-Jewish school so met Jewish friends at a youth club.

"By the '90s, the electronic social media had begun. Times were changing."

Neville noted that Zionist youth movements - including Bnei Akiva and FZY, and youth clubs such as The Zone in Leeds in recent times - bucked the trend.

But on the whole, the days of a traditional youth club were over.

"Regionally, Jewish kids attend anything that moves Jewishly, but it's not so true in Manchester or London because there are Jewish schools," he said.

"Israel Tour for 16-year-olds, however, is a saving grace as 40 per cent go on them, which is phenomenal."

Neville linked the demise of youth clubs to mainstream middle-of-the-road orthodoxy.

"Youth clubs did not do religious activities - they were great places for kids to meet but this part of the community has declined," he said. "People have either gone to the right, so need other things religiously, or to the left so they are not interested."

Over the years, he has seen the changing issues for youth workers and leaders.

"Youth workers as they were in my day don't exist any more," Neville said. "These days it's almost exclusively about Zionist youth movements.

"Leaders are very philosophy driven and it's about informal Jewish education.

"Movements like RSY-Netzer, Bnei Akiva, Ezra, FZY and Sinai are niche, so target a particular type of young person.

"Skills nowadays are similar in terms of relationship building, listening and informal education, but we were less obviously educational.

"We did not set out with a clear educational agenda as youth leaders do today."

As for the United Synagogue, Neville got to know its philosophy. Working with communities on complex asset development and redevelopment programmes, he described it as a "very challenging time" helping to unblock seemingly intractable problems between communities.

"There were a lot of very angry people who felt the organisation had let them down," Neville said. "I had to gradually unpick issues, make people feel more on the same page to move forward.

"Things have changed for the better. The United Synagogue is more understanding of community needs - it's a wonderful ideal.

"New communities start and older communities keep going but the central core wealthy communities feel they are only givers, which is a problem.

"Central orthodoxy, of which the United Synagogue has been a flagship, is declining rapidly so it's big challenge for them.

"Anglo-Jewry is declining so it will, of course, affect the United Synagogue."

Camp Simcha now dominates Neville's working life.

"I loved the magical notion that you could make a huge difference by making things feel better, brighter, exciting and joyful," he said. But there are dilemmas, too.

"Our biggest challenge is coping with a brand that is tremendously well admired but a name that's confusing," Neville explained.

"It's a problem as it suggests we are a youth camp, which we are not, and gives people an impression we are frummer than we are.

"It's hard to resolve because changing brands is a dangerous business. There are examples of organisations changing names and it has not worked. They have not been able to get people to identify with a new name.

"Unless we have a slam-dunk name, where everyone says marvellous, it's a problem."

Neville cited the Kitty's Smile project in Leeds as an interesting initiative.

"The name is very specific to a community and theoretically could be replicated so it will be very interesting to see how people perceive it," he noted.

Regarding Camp Simcha, Neville explained a key impact on children suffering with illness.

"There is huge support for parents, but at the very core we deliver programmes through terrific volunteers," he said.

"They have had involvement with youth movements before, but most importantly they are young and fun. In order to make a difference to a child you have to impact on a whole family. Constant family support is what makes Camp Simcha special.

"We provide practical and emotional support through family liaison officers, then offer powerful positive experiences for children through our volunteers at home or in hospital."

All services are free, while programmes range across parties to outings and family retreats, which provide respite, a chance to network and socialise.

"Families look forward all year round to the retreat as a burst of fun and excitement," Neville said.

"We work across the whole spectrum of Judaism and are non-judgemental.

"People are Jewish by their own definition from the most secular to religious. We see the whole range of Judaism together, which is very special.

"We would all like to see a time that you would not need an organisation like Camp Simcha but, sadly, that is not going to happen.

"There are communities where children need us so we must constantly refine to deliver maximum value for our tremendous donor base who support the cause."

© 2012 Jewish Telegraph