“Everything you need to learn about life, you can learn at camp.”

That’s the simple philosophy of neighborhood resident Laura Seymour. After a childhood packed with summers spent fireside at camp, she speaks from experience.

“I was practically raised at camp,” she says. “My father died when I was just 2, so my mother was left to raise me alone. She would often send me to day camps or summer camps, and I always loved going because that’s where I learned the core values that shaped me into who I am today.”

Seymour has been repeating that process with future generations here in our neighborhood, where she has held the post of Jewish Community Center camp director for three decades. 

“It’s been a great 30 years here, and I feel really lucky to be doing something I’m passionate about and something that allows me to have a positive influence on neighborhood kids,” she says.

“When I was young and idealistic back in the ’60s — and we were all idealistic then — I wanted to change the world. I realized I couldn’t change the world, but I could change the lives of others. Working with these kids is way for me to try and change their lives for the better. I really think for kids, camp can be a place of self-discovery and the grounds for lifelong friendships.”


And in Seymour’s case, camp was even responsible for a little love connection: She met her husband-to-be at camp when she was 12.


“He was a fellow camper there, and at the time I obviously didn’t know I was going to grow up a marry him — but I sure knew I liked him a lot.”


Seymour eventually married that “fellow camper” in her early 20s, after working as a camp counselor for several years. The newlywed couple left their home state of California for North Carolina on a job transfer, and within a few years, Seymour gave birth to their first child.


“The summer I had my first child is one of the only summers I can ever remember not going to camp or being a camp director,” she says. “I can only recall two summers in my entire life that weren’t spent at camp; one was when I moved across the country, and the other was when I had just become a new mom.”


When her oldest was entering preschool, Seymour’s family moved to Dallas, where she was introduced to the JCC.


“I just fell in love with the preschool here at the JCC, so I enrolled my daughter and started getting involved.”


It just so happened that the JCC was looking for a new camp director.


“They hired me, and the rest is history,” she says. “Thirty years later, here I am still running the camp program.”


But not just any camp program — Seymour is big believer in national accreditations because it means the program has to adhere to higher standards in staff selection and in planned activities. The JCC camp program belongs to the American Camp Association and the Jewish Community Center Association, which are top-recognized institutions.


The JCC offers several summertime day camps for kids as young as 2, and there are even specialty camps, such as soccer or science camp. And contrary to what some might think, you do not have to be Jewish to attend camp at the JCC.


“A lot of people think you have to be Jewish because this is a Jewish community center, but the truth is that we strive to have diversity here,” she says. “And while we do base our camp program on Jewish principles, they are universal values, like respect — and respect is respect is respect, no matter who you are or what you believe.”


That bonding brought on by mutual respect is what Seymour says the camp experience is all about.


“I tell all my campers it’s all about the T-shirt: Once they put on that camp T-shirt, they are part of a group,” she says. “Kids here learn how to connect as a group. Today schools focus so much on individual learning, which has a place, but kids also need to learn how to function within a social group.”


But it’s not just the campers who take lessons home with them. Seymour says it’s also a learning experience for her teenage counselors.


“My counselors may not walk away with the biggest paychecks, but they learn how to be role models, and they get the satisfaction of knowing they’ve taught these kids some very valuable life lessons,” she says. “Sure, they could probably make more money working at a fast food restaurant, but why would someone want to spend a summer flipping burgers when they could spend a summer changing lives?”


Neighborhood resident Tara Ohayon knows this firsthand. She attended camp at the JCC as a child, worked as a counselor during high school, and today she’s assistant director of the program. She says Seymour has been a mentor to her every step of the way. 


“Laura has taught me that everyone can make a difference: old, young, male, female — all of us can have an impact for the better,” she says.


And Ohayon says Seymour’s seemingly endless drive is inspiring as well.


“Laura Seymour is the kind of person who can just go, go, go and give, give, give. It’s not uncommon for her to be up here until two in the morning working, but she does it because to her, this isn’t a job: It’s a calling,” she says.


“Everyone who crosses paths with her is left in awe of her, and we’re very lucky to have a woman like her making a mark here in our neighborhood.”



For information/ about the JCC Camp Program visit jccdallas.org or call Laura Seymour at 214.239.7117 or e-mail lseymour@jccdallas.org.


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