Summer means vacation time for kids; but there are no summer breaks for working families, who often have to take care of work responsibilities and their kids at the same time.
Billi Marcus knows this predicament all too well. As a mom who worked, she’s dedicated to making sure that working parents in Atlanta have somewhere to send their kids in the summer. Her summer camp, Camp Billi Marcus, has helped to ease the burden of childcare for mothers of pre-school children.
“I feel camp should be available for all children,” Marcus told the Atlanta Jewish Times, citing her own childhood experience. “I went to camp in Connecticut and had a wealthy uncle who sent me to sleepaway camp with other rich kids. It was called Camp Laurelwood and I never felt the difference. I knew the other kids in camp were rich, but I felt like they were my friends and a nice group of kids. I have wonderful memories from Laurelwood.”
Being a working mother, however, was another matter.
At the time, “I worked at a drugstore in Newark, and, on a day when Michael — who was four years old at the time — was out of school, I had to find a place for someone to give him lunch,” she said. “A kind-hearted woman took Michael home with her and he had lunch with her boys. That was the moment when I knew I’d do something one day in the future and hoped I could give back.
“I made $2 an hour at the drugstore, and I know what it meant to me then to work and what it meant for Michael. When he was out of school, he had to come to work with me. Here you’d see a four-year-old sweeping out the entire drug store and he loved it. I sold cosmetics at the drugstore and when you do it’s not as glamorous as it is today. I also helped the pharmacist fill prescriptions, unpack boxes and kept myself busy all day long. Michael was young, we had no choice, and he became the best sweeper.”
She said the experience taught her son, Michael Morris, life lessons about work and humility. He “learned humility from both Bernie [Marcus] and myself,” she said.
“Bernie learned giving back from his mother, as she encouraged him to give part of his allowance to people who had less. You had to look long and hard to find others with less than them, and still, she valued teaching him to take a nickel out of his quarter to put it back in the pushke, where she saved money for those in need. When Bernie was dating me, he said, ‘If you ever have the need or feel like you need an obscene diamond, tell me about it and I will fix the cleft palate of a child in another country.’ It was his way of telling me who he is and that, if I needed fancy, then I got the wrong guy.”
Words of gratitude for Camp Billi Marcus poured in, including from Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta (MJCCA) CEO Jared Powers: “The Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta is beyond grateful for the generous ongoing support of the Billi Marcus Foundation. More than one-third of children enrolled at Camp Billi Marcus are in circumstances that qualify them for financial assistance. With the support of the Foundation, these families received scholarships to attend summer camp. This keeps families — especially single parents — in the workforce, especially during these difficult COVID times. ninety-nine percent of our Camp Billi Marcus families tell us that MJCCA preschools helped create a solid foundation for their children’s Jewish identity. We remain deeply appreciative for all the Marcus family invests in the MJCCA.”
Janel Margaretta, chief development and communications officer at the MJCCA, said, “As I’ve come to know Billi over the last decade, I know how important it is to her to provide safe and nurturing childcare services. Billi knows that childcare is a difficult puzzle that working parents — especially single parents — have to solve. She had incredible foresight in challenging the MJCCA to continue to innovate to meet these community needs and to provide the childcare and educational solutions that parents need and trust the MJCCA to provide. She remains a champion for working families and I adore her.”
Camp Director Nancy Parker said that “Camp Billi Marcus has a resoundingly positive impact on its campers. Every year, nearly 100 children participate in our impressive creative and nurturing programming. I’ve witnessed families in our community who are essential workers who are only able to return to work because we are providing this critical in-person childcare. I am proud to be associated with a camp bearing the name of Billi Marcus.”
Following the interview, in her gracious style, Billi called back to share one final thought.
She wanted to thank the kind-hearted woman, decades ago, who had taken Michael home for lunch with her boys. We talked about how, after all these years, Billi might possibly locate the woman and thank her, and how perhaps this article might help.
In the meantime, Billi has turned her appreciation into action, paying it forward one happy camper — and grateful mom — at a time.
- Robyn Spizman Gerson
- Camp Billi Marcus
- pre-school children
- working families
- Camp Laurelwood
- Michael Morris
- Bernie Marcus
- life lessons
- Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta (MJCCA)
- Jared Powers
- Billi Marcus Foundation
- financial assistance
- summer camp
- single parents
- MJCCA preschool
- Jewish Identity
- Janel Margaretta
- Nancy Parker
- in-person childcare
- essential workers
- Billi Marcus