Michael Polowin stepped down, February 27, after 11 years as chair of the board of Camp B’nai Brith of Ottawa (CBB).
Polowin saw the camp through its darkest time and was instrumental in bringing the summer hot spot back to its glory days.
CBB has been an important part of the Ottawa Jewish landscape for more than 70 years. But, for a period of time in the early-2000s, the camp was in serious financial trouble with an all-time low of only 175 kids enrolled in the first half of the summer.
After two years of trying to get on the board, and being refused, Polowin took matters into his own hands and started planning a reunion that would bring together alumni from a large age range and remind them what was so special about the camp.
Following the success of the reunion, and a pre-Facebook online message board that had close to 600 alumni chatting about the good old days and posting pictures, Polowin was invited to join the board and quickly got to work on the rescue.
“Recognizing that we are not a business, we became more business-like in how we ran the organization,” said Polowin.
While CBB is an Ottawa camp it has always relied on its Montreal contingency, a group the camp had been ignoring. They began marketing efforts to Montreal’s Jewish community and brought on its first non-Ottawa board member from Montreal, followed by its first woman board member.
“When I got on the board there were only me and one other alumnus,” said Polowin. “We have put together a board of great people.”
With Polowin at the helm, the board changed how the camp charged fees, worked with the Foundation for Jewish Camping to help restructure, changed the culture of the camp, and addressed the issue of the camp’s aging infrastructure.
In 2008, CBB brought back veteran camp director Jonathan Pivnick (a.k.a. Piv) which, said Polowin, gave the camp instant credibility with parents and alumni.
And now that he has accomplished what he set out to do, and the camp is bursting at the seams with 425 campers registered for the first four weeks, Polowin was ready to step down and hand over the reins to new Chair Adam Tanner.
Tanner spent 17 summers at CBB and has been an active member of the board since 2010. He said he welcomes the challenge and feels a huge sense of pride following in his father Stephen’s footsteps, who also served as CBB chair.
“As a board, our accomplishments over the past decade have been incredible. Although an uphill battle since 2006-2007, our success can be linked to Michael’s consummate leadership and the professionalization of our volunteer board,” said Tanner. “Michael was able to ‘right the ship.’ Our financial books are now in order, enrolment continues to grow, and we’ve started to transform our facility for the next generation. Michael’s involvement has been paramount at every turn; his passion and dedication are truly immeasurable.”