Meet A Mom: Jamee Smith - Libertyville Area Moms
Hello! Please introduce yourself.

Hi! My name is Jamee Smith. I’m a proud mom of twenty-something twins and the camp director of JCC Chicago Elaine Frank Apachi Day Camp & Apachi Village, both located in Lake Zurich. I’ve been with Apachi for 30 summers and counting, and I actually started as a counselor, where I quickly realized I wanted to be a part of Apachi Day Camp year-round and dedicate myself to creating meaningful summer experiences. I hold a B.S. in Broadcast Journalism from the University of Kansas and a master’s degree in teaching from National Louis University. I’m an upbeat, passionate person, and I pour my heart and soul into every aspect of my life. When I’m not at work, I love spending time with my family, listening to music, knitting, reading and exercising.

Where are you from and how long have you lived in town? What brought you to the area?

I grew up in Arlington Heights, and I have spent most of my life in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. I currently live in Buffalo Grove where I raised my children.

Do you have child(ren)? Age(s)? Names (optional)

I have a set of twins who are turning 24 in August. They spent their childhood summers as Apachi campers and eventually worked there too! In a way, they’ve both followed in my professional footsteps, pursuing a career path within nonprofit organizations. My daughter works in marketing and communications, and my son works in teen engagement. I could not be prouder of them!

What are your favorite things to do in the area with and without your kids? Family friendly restaurant? Date night?

I enjoy date nights with my husband in downtown Libertyville and Arlington Heights at places such as O’Toole’s, Milwalky Taco and Casa Bonita. If you love sushi, Kuma’s Sushi Bowl in Vernon Hills is the best! I love their Deluxe Salmon bowl. Wick ‘N Ore in Vernon Hills is also a solid place to either eat in or take out. They have the best mozzarella sticks you can find. Now that my kids have moved out and are living in the city, I am looking forward to taking the train down to meet them, explore different neighborhoods and try out some new hot spots.

In addition to the restaurants you mentioned, can you share your TOP 5 favorite local businesses? It could be stores that you frequent for clothes, kids, home decor, healthcare, fitness, wellness, beauty salons or spas, or family resources (photographer, financial advisor, lawyer). We love supporting local.

I’m a regular at Buffalo Grove’s own Nails 2001. My fav nail tech is Tai. He knows that I have a hard time choosing a color, so we test 3 or 4 colors out on my nails before I commit. Gotta love a patient manicurist. For all things shopping, Vernon Hills really is my go-to! I love checking out “Clothes Store”.

Which podcasts and/or TED Talks inspire you the most?

I actually fall asleep every night listening to a podcast. Some of my favorites are The Toast, Pod Save America, Betches, Morning Announcements, Next Question with Katie Couric, and of course, Every Single Album Taylor Swift.

What are your favorite places to travel near and far and why?

I really like southern Florida because when I was growing up, my family spent every winter vacation visiting my grandparents there. I also love Austin, Texas because it’s a great town, and my sister who lives there, always takes me to fun local spots. I have also chaperoned three trips to Israel, and it’s such an amazing country. It holds a special place in my heart.

Tell us about your business/organization.

Elaine Frank Apachi Day Camp, located in Lake Zurich just off Half Day Road, where I’m the Director, is a program of JCC Chicago, the largest Jewish Community Center in North America. I’m so proud to work for an organization that builds community for infants up through adulthood and provides enriching experiences that entertain and educate. At Elaine Frank Apachi, we often say, “It’s Not Just Day Camp. It’s So Much More.” We create a warm, safe, and inclusive community where campers are supported socially and emotionally, and we weave our values of Kindness, Respect and Community into everything we do. Each week of camp is filled with so much fun – swimming, ceramics, arts & crafts, theme days, music, dance, sports, Shabbat celebrations, guest entertainers and so much more, ensuring there’s something for every child. We’re so lucky to have a 37 beautiful acre campus that features sports fields, natural wetlands, nature trails, two heated outdoor pools, a climbing wall, zipline, ropes course, athletic courts, a green house, Garoon Gateway to Science, an outdoor S.T.E.A.M. museum with 52 hands-on exhibits and air-conditioned buildings. We’re also home to Apachi Village Lake Zurich, a half day program where all activities are sized just right for 3- and 4-year old’s.

What do you do in your position?

As the Camp Director for Elaine Frank Apachi & Apachi Village Lake Zurich, I work all year to plan for 9 incredible weeks of summer (including staff training!). Believe it or not, planning for summer truly begins the day camp ends. Whether I’m strolling through a store to get ideas for new projects or checking out cool arts & crafts on Instagram, camp is always on my brain. I’m constantly on the lookout for the best staff, and it always makes me so happy when former campers apply to work at camp. Many of them share what they remember most about camp, how their camp experiences shaped them, and the staff members that made a difference in their lives. My intention is for camp to make a difference in kids’ lives, and hearing this feedback from former campers really shows me that we’re doing something right! I love reaching out to the staff members they mention to let them know they played a big part in that former camper’s life, who now wants to pay their experiences forward. Outside of staff hiring, there’s so many other moving pieces that go into planning for summer. From figuring out transportation to hiring special entertainment, planning exciting, new programming, ordering over four thousand hot dogs and even more popsicles and of course, some fruit too, and everything in between, I try to ensure every detail is planned for so our summer home away from home for 500 plus campers and 135 staff members is nothing short of incredible.

Why do you love your job?

I enjoy seeing the impact that day camp has on our campers, families and staff. Creating a space at camp where everyone can be their authentic selves and feel safe is life-changing and meaningful. Campers and staff come back each summer not only for the amazing activities and experiences, but more importantly, for the friendships and connections they make. As they say, “people come for the what and stay for the who!”

How has this community been instrumental in getting you to where you are now?

Having grown up in the Northwest suburbs, I understand what’s important to families and that gives me good insight into how to design our camp program to meet their needs. I have lots of conversations with parents and their feedback is instrumental in helping us elevate our camp program each summer. It’s so rewarding to give back to my community that’s shaped me and create unforgettable summer experiences for today’s kids.

What is your favorite thing about the Libertyville Area Moms Network?

My favorite thing about the Libertyville Area Moms Network is that it’s such a great resource for myself and moms and families in the community! I actually use it both professionally and personally. I love checking out the “Local Events” section to see which ones would be great for me to attend and some of them are perfect opportunities to share what Elaine Frank Apachi is all about. I also often look through “Children’s Activities” since a lot of them are similar to ones we offer at camp – it gives me ideas for possible new, local vendors I can bring in for our sports, gymnastics, yoga, dance, cooking, theatre, STEM and music programming. Not to mention, personally, I love looking at the “Local Guides”, especially the “summer festivals”, so I can start planning some fun things to do with my husband when the weather gets warmer!

Please share two fun facts about yourself.

I am a big Taylor Swift fan and have even stayed up past midnight on nights of her album releases. Also, after 26 years, I unboxed my KitchenAid mixer and have finally become a baker. My favorite things to make are challah bread and blueberry scones.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten from another Mom?

My mom is always encouraging me to remember that I can only do what I can do each day. My to-do list will be there tomorrow.

Are you involved in any volunteering or philanthropy? Do you have a favorite local non-profit or charity?

My son is a Type 1 diabetic and we have volunteered at the JDRF, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Gala and formed teams with our family and friends to participate in their fundraising walks over the years. I’m so proud to work for an organization that also values giving back, and at Elaine Frank Apachi Day Camp, Tikkun Olam, which means Repairing the World, is a core value we reinforce in many ways. Our 4th-7th grade campers take a field trip to Feed My Starving Children’s building and spend the day making packages for children who face food insecurity. During Maccabi, our high energy, team-based events competition, we run a “Quarter Contest” where the team who raises the most money earns points for their team. Over the years we’ve donated the money to many worthy causes. We’ve used it to stock shelves at a local food pantry, we’ve purchased presents for children during the holidays, and in 2018, we donated to School District 21 in Wheeling because members of that community had lost their homes in a fire. In 2022, we also donated to Highland Park after the mass shooting, and last summer, we donated over $500 to the Aplastic Anemia and MDS International Foundation to support a family member of our camp community. This summer, we’ll be raising money and walking in support of another one of JCC Chicago’s day camp programs, Sunrise Day Camp-Chicago, a free, full summer day camp for children with a cancer diagnosis and their siblings, that shares the grounds with us at Elaine Frank Apachi at our Lake County JCC campus. Involving our children and staff in ways that we can make a difference in our community is one of the reasons I love what I do!

In an effort to keep it real, and not just show the sunny side, can you share with us a past or present struggle in your personal or professional life? Please also share how you overcame it or cope with it (or plan to)? We love gaining new tools for our mental wellness toolbox.

With how busy life can be, I often find myself worrying a lot about different things. Lately though, after listening to Jay Shetty’s podcast, On Purpose, I’ve been inspired to try out some of his stress management techniques. Every night, I write my worries down with the idea of letting them go before I fall asleep. Then in the morning, I take five minutes to focus on gratitude, and this has really helped me calm my mind. Another one of my favorite ways to de-stress is putting on some music and singing and dancing (it’s no wonder I feel so carefree at camp, we do this regularly – every day is a party!)

Anything else you would like to share?

I’m so grateful to have grown up in the northwest suburbs and to continue to be part of the community through my work at Elaine Frank Apachi. If anyone has any questions about summer at Apachi, feel free to email me at [email protected] or call me at 847.726.0800.

You can also learn more about Elaine Frank Apachi on our website at apachi.org/efa. We’d love to have your child spend the summer with us!

Join The Libertyville Area Moms Network Community

Stay up-to-date with what is happening in-and-around The Libertyville IL community with local events, community highlights, and exclusive deals.