When I tell people that I work for a summer camp, the question I hear most often as a follow up is “so what do you do the rest of the year?” I chuckle when I hear this question, because the reality of running a summer camp is that it is a 12 month job, one that requires numerous people organizing, planning and recruiting behind the scenes.
One of the people who has been operating “behind the scenes” in the off season has been our program director Dan Buonaiuto (AKA Dan Dan). For the past year, Dan has been instrumental in ensuring that our second season at Ramah Outdoor Adventure was a successful one. He traveled around the country helping to recruit campers; he oversaw the process with the United States Forest Service to ensure that we had the required backcountry permits for our Massaot, helped plan numerous summer programs in the “off season”, and assisted with administrative tasks in the office. Working with Dan is like working with a force of positive energy. He is upbeat, friendly and always willing to take on a new challenge.
While Dan’s work in Denver enabled us to have a successful summer on the ranch, his passion for Jewish camping really came to light over the summer months at Ramah in the Rockies. Dan could be found walking around on Fridays in his penguin suit, wearing a “Shabbos is coming” T-Shirt. Dan could be found in the “tripping shed” organizing gear for the upcoming massaot. And of course Dan could be found at Havdallah, leading the group in a moving ceremony closing out one week and beginning the next. Dan was known at camp for giving amazing hargaot, for telling inspirational stories about a favorite rebbe at Shabbat services and being a wellspring of knowledge about local plants and fauna, especially those that grew in our organic garden. But perhaps most importantly, Dan was a friend for many of us on staff, someone whom we could turn to for advice and a sympathetic ear.
If there is one image of Dan from this summer that stands out, it was the sight of him emerging from our horse pasture with Charlie and Benny, our camp goats, walking right behind him. Dan was wearing his wide brimmed straw hat and had a long piece of grass hanging from his mouth. During a few precious moments of down time, Dan decided that it was time for our goats to finally see what life at camp was like beyond the confines of the barn. Opening their gate, he walked them across the pasture and onto the “midrash”(playing field). I am not sure who felt more liberated at this moment, Dan, because he was experiencing life as a shepherd, or the goats because they were able to run free. Although I know we had planned otherwise, over the summer, Dan spent way more time in the gear shed than with the plants and animals at the farm.
Sadly, tomorrow is Dan Dan’s last day with Ramah Outdoor Adventure. Dan has decided to take his show on the road and will be moving to Chicago. I will miss working with him during the “off season.” I will miss his insights on how to build a sustainable camp program and his knowledge about numerous environmental issues. We will all miss his passion for camping and his ability to turn a concept into a reality. As Dan begins this new stage of his life, I would like to wish him, on behalf of myself and the entire Ramah Outdoor Adventure community, only the greatest of success. May he continue to find avenues where he can express his love for nature, passion for Judaism and desire to make a difference in the world!