I write this update having just returned from an afternoon at the Ramah in the Rockies Ranch.  We needed a 4 wheel drive vehicle to access the camp today, but once we reached the grounds it was amazing to drive around the pristine ranch.  As is the case in so much of Colorado this time of year, there were parts of the road that had no snow at all and others that were buried in one foot drifts!  I did get stuck a few times, but with the help of my passengers, we managed to push the SUV each time the wheels just wanted to spin.

Being at camp, made me realize that summer is around the corner.  We open for campers in under six months!  I could not have had this realization at a better point; last week we had our best week yet for recruiting.  We have been receiving so many inquiries, that Douglas, Elyssa and I are working overtime just to return emails and phone calls within one business day, as is the policy of Ramah Outdoor Adventure.  And, by the time this Chodesh Tov email is sent to the community, I expect that we will have already begun our waiting list for 6th & 7th grade boys in Session II. We have one more spot available, and about seven more families who I expect will want to register their son for this spot.  We will be working in the coming weeks to see whether we can find additional space for the younger boys who want to join us this summer, but in the meantime we will be taking names and opening spots only after we are certain we will be able to have appropriate accommodations for them.

While there are enormous amounts of excitement in our office about the opening of camp and lots we are spending much of our time speaking to potential campers and their families, I wanted to focus this month on one aspect of our planning that most families and campers are not aware is even happening.  I am referring to our staff training!

Ask almost any camp director to tell you the single most important ingredient in running a successful camp and nine out of ten will tell you “the staff.”  I took this advice to heart and from the beginning have made staff training a core piece of my work in the off season.  Staff training for Ramah Outdoor Adventure actually began over a year ago when I began recruiting a group of twenty potential staff members to come to the Ramah Ranch in early August for eight days.  During this time, we built the foundations of the community that will become the cornerstone of our camp for years to come.

The staff group we had at camp last summer was a wonderful community of people made up of college students, graduate students and young professionals.  About half of them are going to be returning in 2010 to become founding members of the Ramah Outdoor Adventure community.  The youngest among them is entering her junior year of college!

Although we all left the ranch in mid-August, our training has continued throughout the year via email and phone.  Each month, we hold a conference call where we come together (along with new members of our staff) to study a Jewish text and share ideas about the upcoming summer.  Each month, a different person prepares a teaching segment and leads a discussion about the text they are teaching.  We have used various online meeting solutions so that we are able to view the presenter’s screen and often see each other in side windows along the border of the screen.  Each month, the call focuses on exploring one of the eight core values that make up the educational framework of the camp.

While it is too early to assess how these online meetings will positively influence the programming at camp, at this point I am certain that these monthly meetings are enabling us to continue the community building we began in August of 2009.  Each month we gather to hear each other’s voices, share ideas, and study Torah.  I hope that when we are physically together for our ten days of staff training in June 2010, we will have a closer bond because of the ideas we have shared throughout the “off-season.”  I also expect that when we revisit the texts and ideas discussed in these online sessions, they will not be completely new to people.  I have no doubt that we will need to be reminded of our conversations from September and October, but I also hope that a small trigger of the conversation will allow all of us to continue the conversation where we left off months before.

I am not aware of another camp that is using this model to continue their counselor training in the off season, and am certainly interested in hearing from people who have attempted this model, if I am mistaken.  Most of our sessions are open to anyone who is part of the Ramah Outdoor Adventure community (if you are reading this, YOU are part of our community), so please feel free to be in touch, if you would like to join the conversation.  Parents, chalutzim, and staff from other camps are welcome.  Please email eliavb[at]ramamahoutdoors.org for more information

Our next call will be on January 31st when Risa, AJ and Stephen will each be presenting an aspect of what they learned at the Weinstein training—a recent training seminar held at Ramah Ojai that brings together the top college age counselors from each Ramah camp for four days of leadership training.