At Ramah in the Rockies, we have successfully created an oasis where Judaism is lived, taught, and celebrated for eight weeks each summer. But when we close in August, our ranch sits dormant waiting for the following nine months to pass and the arrival of our community members once again.
Why should this be? We have some winterized buildings and nature is there 24/7/365!
Over the past few years, we have been asking ourselves this question. We have openly wondered what we could create for Jewish youth in our off-season that would have an impact not only on the Denver Jewish community, but on the American Jewish community. We dreamt about developing a program that would become the leader in its field and build upon the entrepreneurism, experience, and expertise we are growing with our meaningful Jewish outdoor materials.
Each summer, we hire the best trained and motivated staff within the Jewish camping industry. And each summer, a few staff are living lives as recovering addicts. A few others might have gone down the path to becoming addicts, but received critical help as emerging adults and are now leading meaningful lives as productive members of their families and communities. What caused these individuals to head in these harmful directions? The reasons and theories vary from genetic predispositions to trauma to mental illness to perhaps something else entirely. The manifestation of the symptoms, however, are similar: addiction, depression, and an inability to live to their full potential. When speaking with those who have overcome these challenges, it is clear that wilderness and outdoor rehabilitation played a huge part in setting them on a new path. Sadly, most had to seek help from for-profit or Christian-based organizations because no Jewish options exist.
This must change! Mental illness, trauma-related issues, and addiction are as common in the American Jewish community as in the rest of society, yet the response has been to ignore, deny, and exclude these people who need our help.
Ramah in the Rockies wants to change this and become the leader in the field of Jewish wilderness therapy. Over the past year, we have been engaged in developing a new program, called Nesiya, for young Jewish adults in the growing failure to launch demographic. Failure to launch includes young men and women who need additional support and therapeutic intervention to navigate into adulthood. Treatment uncovers issues preventing the young adult from moving forward, identifies needed skills, and determines a course of action to gain the necessary tools to live productive lives connected to friends and family.
There are successful wilderness therapy programs in the United States, but there are no faith-based programs to meet the needs of Jewish at-risk youth. At Nesiya, we will adapt existing, effective Christian and for-profit approaches and imbue them with Jewish texts, values, and traditions to empower the neshamaof our youth in their healing process.
Three weeks ago, over thirty stakeholders from the greater Denver area met to discuss the need for Nesiya. We also shared challenges facing a Jewish wilderness therapy program, including removing the shame associated with addiction and educating our community about addiction and other mental illnesses.
With their support, we are going public. We have a solid program proposal and a working business plan to enable us to be financially sustainable within 3-5 years. We have hired a program director to move Nesiya to the next stage, which includes an eighteen-month timeline for development.
We need angels and chaverim to move this project forward. Our chaverim are the life-force of this project, constantly imbuing it with the dedication of their hearts and souls. Fortunately, we have many such individuals already committed and are happy to welcome more. But we also need 2-4 angels who will ensure that we have the requisite funding to implement this important program. And for this, we are turning to people who want to make a hugely impactful monetary investment. We will only move forward once we ensure that we have the angel investors in place to help us with the $160,000 we need this year for research and development. Our angels also understand that we will ultimately need to raise close to $500,000 by 2019 to have a viable and effective program on the Ramah ranch. Over the next months we will be forming an advisory board, hiring consultants, and exploring best practices further.
We must push the conversation into our communities that this IS a growing concern for which a Jewish response is needed NOW.
We plan to begin with a 50-day pilot program in the fall of 2017 and then run full sessions in the spring of 2018 and 2019. We will not solve all the problems in the Jewish community relating to this complicated issue, but we need to begin. When we are successful, we hope to be an inspiration and an example for other agencies wanting to target other Jewish populations needing to be brought out of the shadows and into the warm embrace of the American Jewish community.
We are excited to be at the forefront of this initiative. It takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a community to turn that child into a mensch.
For more information about Nesiya, or to become one of our angels, please contact Hindy Finman, Project Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org or Rabbi Eliav Bock, Executive Director at email@example.com. You may also visitwww.ramahout.s466.sureserver.com/nesiya. And, of course, please share this with anyone who might be interested in helping us take our ideas from concept to reality!
Thank you for being a part of our community.
Rabbi Eliav Bock