I remember sitting at work around the second week of March talking about this thing called COVID, and how it was going to affect our upcoming spring break camp at The J. Little did we know, everything was about to be canceled.
We began working from home, and news continued to come in about school closures and event cancellations. Immediately we started thinking about how this could impact our early childhood program, as well as summer’s Shemesh Camp at The J.
We spent months coming up with different scenarios, learning as a team what social distancing looked like, how to properly sanitize and how to give campers the opportunity to bring some normalcy into their lives. That’s when the motto, turn a bummer into a fun summer, was born.
As camp approached, changes were literally being made minute by minute, based on unfolding information. We’d sit and wait every week as a team to hear what the governor was going to tell us, and how new guidelines would change the path of our plans.
Staff training had a different look as we conducted Zoom calls, and parent orientation was virtual. We didn’t get to have our campers in the building meeting their counselors and seeing our facilities. We knew our community was putting significant trust in our hands.
And then May 26 was here: our first day of camp. I was unsure what the process would look like with campers separated in different rooms, and parents only doing drop-off and pick-up outside.
But here’s what I ended up seeing throughout our building: Our staff took camp back to the “old-school” days. By replacing some elements of prior camp years like field trips, big group openings, special visitors, big water slides — we found one another.
I walk around camp each day and see campers and counselors playing. I mean really playing. Campers are engaged in building contests, tons of art, old-school games, dancing, trivia, playing in the pool and just enjoying one another. My 8-year-old son told me it is his favorite summer. When I asked him why, he stated, “I love having more time in the room playing with my friends and being silly.” As a mom, seeing my kids fully engaged with no tablet or video games, is the best thing I could ask for.
Summer camp has the magical ability to let kids escape any kind of stereotypes they may hold during the school year. They can be whomever they choose to be.
This summer, more than ever, campers are exploring who they are, learning new things, working on their social interactions and building their self-confidence. This summer, we are able to watch our campers grow and be mensches.
As summer progresses and we put a heavy emphasis on keeping camp tradition alive — even during a pandemic — it provides our camp staff with an opportunity to think outside the box to find ways to provide our campers and families a true camp experience in our new normal.
A few months ago, on a Friday night, I was listening to my rabbi’s sermon when he spoke about finding the silver linings in all of this, and how we can keep these silver linings a part of our lives once we go back to “normal” — whatever that ends up being.
Walking around camp, I have found our Shemesh silver lining. Campers want to play, they want to interact and they want to giggle. Simply put, they want to be kids. Even the requirement of campers to wear masks seems not to phase them. They are just so happy to be having fun.
Parents want their kids happy, engaged and safe. We want our community to know that we are here for them and will do whatever we can to keep community together. It’s such an honor that we get the opportunity for our campers, parents and counselors to help bring back some normalcy and to help them have a fun summer. JN
Kim Subrin is the chief operating officer at Martin Pear JCC and director of Shemesh Camp at The J.