Thoughts from 37,000 feet

I am currently flying at about 37,000 feet somewhere between Denver and NYC. Although I do not have internet up here, I thought I would write a few words for the ROA blog and then post it later once we land in New York.

My goal in Denver this week was to meet many of the people whom I have heard about since getting involved in the Ramah project. Many of these people have been involved with Ramah Rockies through its ups and downs, while others had never heard of Ramah until they found out that Ramah Outdoor Adventure. Some of these people might become financial supporters of ROA, while others will be able to help with technical aspects of the program, while others will never be formally involved but are well connected in the Denver community and might be able to help spread the word about ROA to their friends and family.

At the same time, I have been in the process of putting together the ROA strategic plan. One of the greatest aspects of being a beneficiary of the FJC/Jim Joseph Foundation, is that we are required to spend 6-8 months being very intentional about our planning. I see this as a benefit, because many organizations do not have the luxury of spending so much time in the planning stages. Because they are more worried about their short term bottom line, they are required to ramp up their delivery of services faster than an organization like ours. Since the FJC is funding 100% of ROA operations for the next 18 months, we are under less pressure to deliver services in the short term. Obviously, the hope is that over the long term, once we open our doors for campers, we will be able to offer a higher level of programming than we would have had we not gone about our planning in as methodical a method.

Despite the relatively long period we have until we open our doors to campers, I am very conscious of the need to engage staff members starting in the next few weeks. I am convinced that the success of ROA lies in our ability to recruit highly skilled educators who are able to transmit their passion for the outdoors in a Jewish context. It is no secret that most Ramah Camps have had trouble hiring these types of highly qualified individuals; many camps have had to turn to outside contractors to provide the adventure trips for the camps. It is for this reason, that over the long term ROA is planning on growing these types of people from within. I started the process this week in Denver where I laid the groundwork to recruit our first cohort of staff members for the 2010 season to begin training this summer. We are focusing our efforts on recruiting college age students who might be able to work at ROA for more than one season, although at this point they would only need commit to the opening season.

This week, I did a fare amount of recruiting of these college age staff members; I spoke with area rabbis & youth directors, visited the Jewish high-school in Denver, and reached out to lay people who might have ideas about who might be interested in working at ROA. My hope is to recruit between 6-8 individuals from the Denver area who could train for ROA this summer either by working at an existing Ramah camp or attending the 8 day training program ROA is running in the Colorado mountains. The other 8-10 participants would come from Texas, New Mexico and the rest of the country. I expect that that finding 15-20 qualified college age students will not be such a huge undertaking, although I really only began recruiting in earnest this week, so only time will tell.

In 2010, I am hoping to have two groups of staff members at ROA. One group will be highly experienced Jewish outdoor leaders who have lead Ramah style trips in the past. The other group will be this younger cohort of staff members who will apprentice with the older staff members next summer. Just as most Ramah camps have junior counselors and Senior counselors, so too at ROA we will have Junior Trippers and Senior Trippers. Obviously the hope is that the JTs will go on to become STs in future summers.

This summer, we will not be doing formal training with the STs as I believe that STs will get their best training by working in their existing jobs or working in full summer programs. I have gotten numerous inquiries from potential STs about working at ROA in 2010. I truly hope that some of these inquiries will translate into firm hires after the 2009 season. If you are a potential ST, and are reading this blog, please keep following the development of ROA on our site and Facebook page. Feel free to be in touch directly with me every few months and assume that by the late summer I will be ready to actually make the first formal offers to come work at ROA in 2010.

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A note on the launch of our website:

We are currently a week behind in launching our site, as the wiki feature is still not working 100%. We hope by the end of this week to be up and running and to invite the next group of 20-30 “think tank” participants to come on board and help us get this program rolling!

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