The Results Are In!

Over the past six weeks, our year round team has contacted almost all of our 2013 parents to solicit feedback on our season that ended just two months ago.  In addition many families filled out the third party survey conducted by the Foundation for Jewish Camp.   We appreciate everyone who left their comments in our online survey, who answered our calls, and/or who responded to our messages via email or telephone.  We have incorporated all these comments into an action plan as we begin our planning for the 2014 season.  The results of the online survey can be found here and will be available for all to see on our website throughout the year.

Here are some of the takeaways from all the feedback our families have provided us.

The Positive

  1. Overall, this summer was a fabulous summer.  Children grew emotionally, spiritually and physically.  Numerous parents spoke about their children coming home from camp feeling more confident, more aware of the food they were eating, and with a deeper sense of Jewish belonging.
  2. We were delighted to hear that the ratings for our food were vastly improved!  Our tzevet mitbach (kitchen staff) did an outstanding job at providing varied and healthy meals that were in line with our core values of serving sustainable food.  Breakfast, in particular, seemed to be the most improved meal compared to summer 2012.
  3. We also heard, once again, how kids who stayed for four weeks developed much deeper relationships with each other and the staff.  Many two week campers said they had wished that they could have stayed for longer.
  4. The staff continued to be the defining factor in our camp.  So many campers and parents said that the quality of our staff set this camp experience apart from others, and often it was an individual staff member who helped make the Ramah experience such a powerful one.
  5. For the older campers, and second session Metayalim campers ( 5&6th grade), the masa (excursion) experience was almost always the highlight of the summer.   Leaving our ranch for a few days at a time and spending time together in the backcountry can bring out the very best in almost anyone.  Despite some intense storms, occasional issues with transportation back to camp, and trips where children complained of being hungry at times, almost all our campers commented on the transformative power of the masa experience.
  6. Shabbat continues to be the single most popular “activity” at basecamp.  It is ironic that we spend tens of thousands of dollars on gear for bikes, rock climbing, horses, etc., yet what appeals to campers most is a day when we do not use any of these things.  What campers like most is the day when we dress in white, pray more than we do on a typical day, eat slower meals, and hang out with friends.  No added equipment needed!  As a Rabbi, I wish that we could recreate the camp Shabbat experience for the 48 Shabbatot that campers are not in camp, but I realize that this is easier said than done. (And as the famous Hebrew song laments: “למה לא כל יום שבת!?”—“Why can’t every day be Shabbat?!”)

Room for Improvement

  1. Communication: While many parents appreciated the level of communication that they received for our office, including Facebook messages, emails and phone calls, we can still do better.  Some parents said that we posted too many pictures; others said we did not post enough.  Some wanted more on Facebook; others wanted us to use some other service entirely.  Letters from campers were few and far between, if at all.  As we grow we will continue to strive to provide parents with excellent communication in a timely fashion.  For next summer we will examine our travel procedures to ensure that we have the correct information without having to confirm by phone; we will continue to use a variety of media to communicate with parents, thereby allowing each person to choose how to receive the information; and we will strive to return phone messages and emails in a timely fashion.  We also have switched to a new database, CampMinder, which will better facilitate one-way emails between you and your child, and we will continue to improve the letter writing process, though we cannot do much about the painfully slow USPS service in rural America.
  2. Food:  While we were delighted that our food received much higher ratings, we know that we can still improve in this area.  Clearly, a few menu items like tuna casserole were not a hit.    While campers appreciated the readily available snacks in the chadar ohel (dining hall), we need to have more variety out during the day so we are not relying just on whole apples (which kids with braces cannot eat).  We also know that while our rations on massaot were vastly improved since 2012, there were a few trips that ran low on food, something we strive to avoid.
  3. 3.      Packing lists:  Prior to the 2013 season, we revised our packing list based on the comments we received in 2012.  We now know that we need to further revise this list and make one that is dedicated for Ilanot & Metayalim (grades 3-6), one Sollelim & Bogrim (grades 7-10) and one for JOLI (grades 11&12).  We will also see whether we can further define items that four-week campers will need but two-week campers will not. 
  4. 4.      Cost & Scholarships:  For many of our families, camp continues to be a huge financial burden.  As a not-for-profit summer camp our goal is to accept any camper who is Jewish and wants to attend this sort of program.  We know that the effect of attending Jewish summer camp for a few summers leaves an indelible impact on a child long after s/he leaves camp.  We are constantly striving to find ways to run our camp more economically and to ensure that we raise enough funds to support our scholarship fund.   We hope to have three more summers of camper growth before we cap our enrolment.  We plan to grow strategically to allow us to achieve economy of scale in areas that will reduce our overall operating costs. 
  5. 5.      Swimming:  Perhaps the critique that will be hardest to address in the short term is our lack of aquatic facilities.  As a frequent swimmer myself, this is an area that I too miss on a daily basis.  While we might build a pool or lake in the future, and might actually be mandated by the State of Colorado to build a pond in the next 2-3 years, we do not plan to have anything like this ready by next summer.  While we do have a natural lake, Cheesman Reservoir, nearby (and anyone who has been to our camp sees it on the way up to camp), this body of water has been closed for swimming and boating since the devastating Hayman Fire in 2002.  When we opened the camp in 2010, we had thought that Cheesman would be open again to the public in 2011, but in reality, only the hiking trails around the reservoir opened in 2012 to the public, and there are no plans to reopen the water for boaters or bathers in the near future.  In the meantime, we will have to be content with our high alpine, low in water, ranch.

As I write this blog post, we are in the midst of our early registration for 2014.  To date, we have more children registered than we have at any such point in the past. (And if you have not reregistered, remember to do so by October 31st in order to receive a free ROA fleece.  Click here to register.)  While we will never have 100% of our campers return from one year to the next, we sincerely hope that most of our 2013 campers who are eligible will return for 2014.  We know that 2013 was a great year for us, perhaps our best yet, and we also know that we can learn from some of our challenges and successes to make 2014 even better!

Camp is a unique community that exists for only a finite time each summer.  As I say to our staff each year at our closing banquet, this exact community of people will never again be reassembled under one roof (or tent, as the case may be).  But the lessons that our campers learn and the memories they take with them will ideally last throughout the off-season and for a long time for years to come!

Please know that planning for 2014 is dynamic, and if you have not had a chance to share your thoughts on camp with one of our senior year round staff, and would like to do so, please do not hesitate to call or email me directly.

I look forward to being in touch throughout the year.