Lets just get kids into Jewish camps. . . When directors work together

I wrote this on Thursday night, but due to our system uploading updates on shabbat automatically, I am only now posting this– on Sunday night

I am writing this blog post on the way home from a recruiting trip to Houston.  This week has been a terrific week for recruiting.  It was the first week where I finally had a chance to sit in front of many groups of potential campers and talk about the camp.  From Sunday to Wednesday, I met with 8 different groups to talk about camp.   I spent time in Boulder, Denver, Colorado Springs and Houston!  On  Shabbat I am teaching at Rodef Shalom.

Perhaps one of the most interesting  parts of the week was having the opportunity to recruit along side other camp directors.  While I am a veteran of camps (12 years on staff—5 on outdoors staff of Ramah in Canada) this is the first time I running a camp during the off season.  I never would have thought that camp directors, as a whole, are such a warm and friendly group.  Rather than seeing each other as competitors, I have found that most Jewish camp directors see each other as partners.

Let me give you two concrete examples:

Example #1:

In Colorado there have been two Jewish overnight camps for years: Shwader and JCC Ranch.  Each of these are excellent programs and have strong followings.  For the past number of years, these camps have had an arrangement whereby when they recruit in public institutions, they go as a team.  Their message is: “Jewish camp rocks” and “the more Jews who go to Jewish overnight camp, the better!”  With Ramah Outdoors starting in CO, there was some question as to how we would be received and whether we would be able to join this cohort.  I have to say, that rather than seeing us as competition, the professional leadership of these camps have reached out to me, and immediately included Ramah in all public recruiting.   This week, we did three events together at a day school in Denver, and we have about 10 more joint events in the next two months.   By going in front of parents and kids and selling “Jewish camp” I am convinced that in the end, we will all have more kids going to our respective camps, and it also keeps me focused on the greater picture: my goal in doing this work is not just to make Ramah a success, but also to radically transform Jewish lives by increasing & deepening kids’ Jewish identity.  While I think that Ramah is one avenue to achieve this, I know that kids are influenced by most Jewish camps, and it is almost always better to go to A Jewish camp, than to go to a secular camp or sit home all summer and do nothing.

Example #2:

Based on the model that the Colorado camps have been using, I suggested to the Director of Camp Young Judea (CYJ) in Wimberly Texas, Frank Silberlicht, that we try the same model in Houston.  According to Frank, he has never recruited alongside a Ramah director, and our two man show, turned into a four person effort yesterday as our colleagues at Camp Sabra  and Ramah Darom joined the effort.   In Houston, the majority of kids who go to Jewish camp end up going to CYJ.  It is a wonderful camp and has a broad range of kids from across the denominations.  Yet, according to Frank, they only have about 150 kids from Houston going to camp.  Sabra has a handful, Green camps has a bunch as does Ramah Darom.  But even with all these camp, there are 1000s of Jewish kids in Houston who are not going to any Jewish camp.  In two hours yesterday, we stood before over 300-400 potential campers & parents (in two synagogues) all of whom could be going to our camps!  We offer very different products, religious messages and means of delivering our core values.  But the bottom-line, is that all four of these camps are Jewish camps and would have a profound influence on any child who walked through the door.

The drawback to joint recruiting is that each camp has less time to spend with the kids.  Clearly, it can be harder to share a 45 minute info session with four groups that it is taking all 45 minutes for one camp.  And while this certainly is an issue, I believe that for the sake of the Jewish people, the rewards of getting more kids into Jewish camp far outweigh the downside of having less time with each group.

And as for the numbers at Ramah Outdoors. . .  We are more than 80% hired for staff.  And the kids keep coming!  We had more signups this week (i.e. people who filled out the registration form) more kids/parents who told me they are coming just need to figure out the dates, and about 20 more excellent leads on families who are seriously considering the camp for their children.

Overall, a wonderful week!

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