During the past six weeks, our year-round team has reached out to hundreds of camp families by email, phone, and survey. Many of you responded to our requests for honest feedback, including a record number to our online survey. We know that we can only continue to provide an amazing summer experience to our campers and staff by constantly working to make each summer better than the one before it. The way to do this is by always being open to adapting our camp program to meet the needs of our community. Our mission might remain the same, but aspects of our program have to change and improve from year to year.
We cannot thank you enough for your time and thoughtful responses to our questions. Now that we have had the opportunity to review and evaluate all the feedback, here is what we have learned and our action plan for the future.
TWO THUMBS UP
Values Based Community
The comment heard most often from campers, staff, and parents is that ours is a warm, intentional community, where people are kind, welcoming, and accepting. So many remarked on how newcomers and returning campers are able to bring their full personalities to our camp. We frequently also heard about the benefits of having a geographically diverse camper population. While our younger campers particularly enjoyed earning and bringing home the stickers with our four core values home, these concepts stood out to all that Ramah in the Rockies is a place where we strive to treat everyone and everything with respect. This is something that so many parents (and campers) appreciated.
Ramah in the Rockies continues to be THE Jewish camp for rustic outdoor living. So many families observed how their children were able to express the sensation of awe and grandeur that comes from living in the Colorado Rockies. While there are always some questions before camp starts concerning our not allowing any screens or earphones around camp, once engaged in the program, parents and campers realize that this is one of the more powerful aspects of our camp. And, of course, our outdoor program is best on display as exhibited by the various masa’ot (excursions) in which our campers participate throughout the summer. Masa’ot allow campers to bond with each other and challenge themselves in ways that they could not ordinarily do if they always remained in the relative comforts of base-camp.
Song and Dance
So much of the formal teaching in our children’s lives is directed towards obtaining further knowledge. At camp, we have the opportunity to also affect a child’s spirit and soul. This year, we made an extra effort to improve our song, dance, and visual arts programs. Many families noted how much their children loved these additions, including our daily dances at Mifgash. By the end of the summer, we also had switched to playing modern Israeli hip-hop as part of our Havdallah dance party for the older campers. We know that the culture of dancing that took off this summer will take a few more years to fully institutionalize, but we are eager to continue to invest resources in this area, including hiring a Rosh Rikud for the summer of 2017, a position we have never formally had. Additionally, parents told us that their children had been onto SoundCloud and Youtube to continue listening and dancing to some of their favorite camp songs.
MIXED REVIEWS (WHERE WE NEED MORE EMPHASIS)
During the summer you are entrusting us with your single most beloved treasure – your children – confident that we are providing your child with a safe, enjoyable experience. This is an incredible responsibility which we daily appreciate and continually strive to earn. While we pride ourselves on having the most mature staff in the Jewish camping industry, we know that we cannot rest on our laurels. To ensure and improve camper care for our families, including communicating well, we plan to make a number of changes going forward that will address specific areas where we know we could have done better. Two main areas of change include:
Medical Facility and Medication Distribution:
While complying with codes and regulations, our health center is pushed to its limits. We are now designing a new facility and raising funds to build a Wellness Center that should be open for the 2018 season. (Let me know if you would like to contribute to this important project.) In the interim, we plan to expand our medical space into the adjacent staff building known as “Don’s House”, giving us more room for sick campers to heal and another working bathroom.
We are re-examining our medication dispensing procedures, including assigning dedicated medical staff to pulling, logging, and distributing the medication rather than making this one of the many daily tasks for the camp nurse. We will continue to work with CampMeds or another pharmacy that individually packs pills for appropriate dispensing.
Our goal this summer was to communicate personally with every parent of a new camper in the younger edot (age group) within the first few days of camp. While we did call most parents, we know that we missed some and for this we are truly sorry. We are also working on systems to ensure that parents hear information about their children in a more timely fashion and have a chance to collaborate more closely with us when their child is struggling. To follow up after the session ends, we are working on ensuring better feedback letters from our counselors describing aspects of the camp program and including a list of questions to help parents engender more of a conversation with their camper concerning their experiences.
We will work to improve our mail system. While we will remain a few miles from the closest mailbox (where our USPS & UPS carriers drop all mail and packages), we know that campers deserve to get their packages and letters in a more timely fashion once they arrive at the ranch. For next summer we plan to hire a staff member who will oversee all parts of the mail operation, including sorting and delivering mail and printing emails. We also expect that this person will check outgoing mail to ensure it is properly addressed and stamped so that it reaches its destination sooner.
Teaching More Outdoor & Naturalist Skills
We have a beautiful remote ranch and all our campers spend some time sleeping in tents and under the stars. With that said, we need to work more intentionally at teaching outdoor and wilderness skills, especially to our younger campers. We heard from many parents who were surprised that their child did not learn how to put up a tent or use knives. While we cannot teach everything one needs to know to survive in the wilderness in two – or even four – weeks, we are spending time this year working on a five-summer curriculum whereby each age group will have specific outdoor skills in which they will gain proficiency. We are basing our curriculum on the merit badge system used in the Boy Scouts of America, and will include items like setting up shelter, using knives, creating fires safely, navigation techniques, and knot tying. While elements of each will also be taught in the different chugim (activities), we also plan to add a regular chug called camping skills where campers can practice these skills at base camp in a more relaxed atmosphere than they could when they are out on masa, where too often time is of the essence. We also hope to build upon some of the more naturalist activities often taught in the farm program and teach them in other areas of camp as well. This includes a greater appreciation for plant diversity and learning more about the natural history of the land around us.
Jewish summer camp works as an educational medium in large part because campers develop close, personal connections with their counselors and friends. While improving this area was a goal going into the summer, and we did better in 2016 than ever before, we have yet to fully realize our vision.
Moving forward, we will continue to improve our staff training to ensure that social connections are being made within the ohelim (tents) and require counselors to complete regular socio-grams (an activity to aid them in identifying and encouraging healthy group dynamics). We will also encourage more activities that foster positive early connections and adapt our scheduling to include more bunk-specific bonding activities. Our goal is for each ohel, when they are in base camp, to have a minimum of two scheduled peulot ohel each week where the counselors will have a chance to oversee some sort of intentional bonding program or discussion to help draw campers together.
We also intend to include more scheduled times for counselors to be with their campers in less formal environments, outside of the dining hall. We know that counselors can have incredible impact and influence on their campers, and want to help foster these positive relationships.
Finally, while our two-week programming will continue to be available to our edot through their Bogrim summer, our older two-week campers will no longer be able to select their activities at the base-camp. Instead, they will travel by “mishpachot” (coed families) to each activity and be able to experience most of the fourteen base camp opportunities we offer each two-week session. We have made this change to give our short-term campers more chances to bond within a smaller group and also to give our four week campers the ability to experience a few activities in greater depth along with a similar group of friends for their entire time at base-camp.
With the exception of our first-time Ilanot and Metaylim campers, we will continue to encourage families to consider the four-week options over two-week sessions. No matter how incredible we make our two-week program, it simply cannot live up to the magic experienced over four weeks.
We feel incredibly privileged that so many families have entrusted us to care for their children each summer. We know the awesome responsibility that this entails and are aware that a child’s experience at camp can influence decisions throughout life. We constantly seek to improve our camp and to fully realize the values that guide us throughout our summer. We also know that there will be times when we fall short of expectations, and cannot thank our parents, chalutzim, and tzevet
Thank you and Shanah Tovah!
Rabbi Eliav and the Ramah in the Rockies team!