Many of us carry fond memories of Järvemetsa in our hearts.
For decades, guides and scouts, brownies and cub scouts, leaders and friends have walked those sandy paths, teaching and learning forest skills, Estonian songs, handicrafts, scouting knowledge…and getting into some memorable mischief as well.
The organization Federation of Associations for the Advancement of Estonian Youth (FAAEY), known in Estonian as Eesti Skautide ja Gaidide Sõprade Seltside Liit USAs (ESGSSL) has been the guardian of our Lakewood campsite.
This year marks its 60th year of existence.
The FAAEY was launched with a meeting that took place on Dec. 27, 1953 at the New York Estonian House. The statutes and officers were approved at a special meeting on Sept. 5, 1954 at the Lakewood Estonian House.
Aleksander Prima was elected chairman and V. Gutman, M. Mäekask, gdr M. Lannus, H. Keerdoja and J. Laine as board members.
Representatives from the regions that had organized Estonian guide and scout troops were also asked to join. At that time, the Federation’s most pressing assignment was to find and purchase a permanent campsite for Estonian youth. After intensive searching and discussions, it was decided to purchase 27 acres at the campsite we know and love today, with the acquisition taking place on May 22, 1956.
The refugee community of those years had little money. Money had to be collected with the help of bank loans, membership dues, fundraising events and donation drives. Gradually, the lake was made deeper, underbrush was cleared, and the parade grounds raised with the sand removed from the lake. Even before the first camp, electricity and telephone lines were run to the site.
In 1963, additional acreage was purchased, expanding the size of the property to 82 acres. Even more improvements were made. A large mess hall was built with cement floor and walls. In 1964, shower buildings, enclosed latrines, and the Pipra Pood shop were erected. All the work was done by volunteers – friends of guides and scouts from Lakewood, northern New Jersey, Long Island and elsewhere on the East Coast.
With the World Jamboree “Koguja” at our doorstep, many more improvements became necessary. Several permanent structures, including the Main House, sauna, and 2 new satellite kitchens (one for the scout side and one for the guide side, each serving 250 campers), were built. Sanitation issues had to be addressed, and the lake was enlarged even further. The sub-camps now had to have electricity, water, and gas stoves. 1000 loads of sand were hauled in to configure the lake shoreline and expand the campfire site. A dam was constructed to regulate the water level. The 2-story Main Building rose on an elevated spot by the parking lot. Its meeting, storage, and first aid rooms are still used today.
The chairmen of FAAEY have been Aleksander Prima (1954-1960), Olev Piirsalu (1961-1967), Ernst Lübik (1968-1970), Harri Verder (1971-1981), Anton Männik (1982-1985), Arno Liivak (1986), Richard Morgen (1987 and 1990-2009), Heino Ets (1988-1989) and skm Mati Kobin (2009-today).
The Federation has had a number of steady supporters, including the Estonian American National Council, the Estonian Relief Committee (Abistamiskomitee), and others.
However, the infrastructure that was lovingly put into place so many years ago is feeling its age. Property taxes and maintenance costs are rising steadily. Timed with the FAAEY’s 60th anniversary, now the Järvemetsa Preser-vation Fund has been established for the purpose of encouraging support for our beloved 85-acre campsite, to guarantee its continued existence.
Thousands of young people of Estonian descent from many countries have enjoyed happy times and learned valuable skills in those woods. Järvemetsa continues to be at the heart of Estonian scouting, youth, and culture – a natural preserve where lifelong friendships begin and great memories are made. Donations are now urgently needed to extend Järve-metsa’s financial longevity, so that the Federation has time to consider other strategic options.
We are calling on everyone with cherished memories of their days at the camp and/or who wish to guarantee other young people the opportunity to continue making these memories and Estonian ties. To do so, visit the website www.jarvemetsa.org to look for themselves and their friends in the “Järvemetsa 50” slide show and to make a tax deductible donation by check, credit card or PayPal. Checks may be made out to “FAAEY” and sent to: FAAEY Treasurer, c/o Laupa, 479 Township Line Rd., Belle Mead, NJ 08502-4210.
…so that we may also invite future generations of Estonian youth to join us in singing:
“Tule, rändame mändide varju, päikene silmis ja suul!”
–for JPF, Tiina Ets, gdr