Parents ask me all the time what makes us stand out in the Jewish camping world. I often mention our rustic but comfortable facility and our focus on integrating outdoor education, environmental ethics and Jewish values. But most importantly I mention our off-the-chart, unbelievably passionate, dynamic, authentic, enthusiastic staff. These 20 & 30 something year olds are truly the lifeblood of our community.
As a new camp, we are in the unique position of hiring individuals who have never attended our camp as children. In fact, many of our staff members have never before worked at a summer camp, and some never even attended summer camp. As a result, no staff member comes to camp to ‘hang out with their friends’. Rather, they come to camp because they are meshuga l’davar—totally committed to making the summer the most transformative experience possible for our campers.
Over the past three summers (we began staff training in 2009 during a special program on our ranch) I found that hiring college and post college age individuals who were passionate about the outdoors, love working with kids and most importantly are on their own religious journey, helped us to create an authentic Jewish camping community where almost no issue about life, religion or personal growth is out of bounds. And in this community, there is ample time to explore these issues with a cadre of role models who speak honestly with our campers.
But hiring inspiring staff is not enough to implement our broader vision. Even the best intentioned college student might not know how to be an effective counselor. And it is for this reason that we also spend an enormous amount of time and energy in the “off season” planning and implementing our staff training program.
Earlier in the month, we began our monthly training virtual meetings for all staff. Each month, we gather our available staff for a webinar where we discuss topics relevant to being exceptional staff members. In January, we discussed some of the ways that we can integrate Jewish education into the specialty areas at camp. On future calls, we will be reviewing our eight Jewish core values, issues around child development, how to plan effective programs and other relevant topics. The goal of these calls is not to complete the discussion on any one of these matters, but to open a dialogue in the off‑season between our staff members so that they arrive at camp for our full 10 day staff training in early June already thinking about these important issues.
In addition to our calls, we also provide opportunities for select staff members to participate in extended seminars. Recently, we sent some of our staff members for our younger edot to a National Ramah Commission training seminar at Camp Ramah in California. There, they met over 100 staff members from other Ramah camps and spent four days in intensive seminars designed to encourage their own professional development as Ramah staff members.
In May, we will send other madrichim to another training seminar at Camp Ramah in Georgia, where they will connect with their counterparts from other Ramah camps to focus specifically on best practices to integrate more Hebrew language into the general Ramah program. In addition, there will be an opportunity for our Rashei Edah (unit heads) to spend a few days learning how to become effective supervisors.
And before we begin our own official staff training on June 10, 2012, we are offering for the first time a nine day course to formally train our staff members to become Wilderness First Responders (WFR). This extended course, the highest level of medical certification below an EMT, will allow us to have one of the largest groups of certified WFR counselors of any Jewish camp.
While the camp season only lasts for two months each summer, we know that these eight weeks may be the most transformative period of the entire year. Camp works as an educational model, because counselors are active educators for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. At Ramah Outdoor Adventure, we are committed to providing the tools to our counselors to make every hour of the summer as inspiring and valuable as possible.