Inside Scoop: Fashion vs. Practicality



Perhaps the next most difficult decision for a parent after choosing a camp for his or her kids is deciding what to send along with them. In 2016, while some camp traditions such as oversized sweatshirts remain, others have long ago faded.

Stacy Schwartz Frazier, assistant director of Camp Louise in Cascade, Md., said when she was a camper in the 1980s, the popular trend for girls was knee-high socks, while the guys found favor with Bermuda-style shorts.

“In terms of the shorts I feel like they’ve gone through many incarnations,” she says. “I think they’ve all had their time in the spotlight.”

Umbros and big scrunchy socks were also in at the time, and the popular shoes included Reebok, K-Swiss, Keds and Tretorn.

Frazier says that the most important aspect of camp clothing is flexibility. Her mother often gave her
“disposable” clothes, and she encourages parents not to send their kids with anything that is valuable.

“Don’t send someone to camp with something [that] if it didn’t come back, you would be upset,” she says.

In addition to a bathing suit, you may want to pick up a waterproof wristband for your camper, now popular. (Bathing caps? Not so much.)

Marji Arnheim

insiderflashback1Marji Arnheim, 45, is a Camp Louise alumna who attended from 1976 to 1987 before becoming a counselor the following year. Since 2007, she has served as a staff photographer and has watched her two boys follow in her footsteps at Camp Airy.
What were your favorite things at camp?
As a young camper, I loved making felt-stuffed animals in arts and crafts, and I learned to shoot archery surprisingly well. But as I got older, camp taught me to step out of my comfort zone, try new things, and that’s when my love for theater really blossomed. I never knew I could sing until I auditioned for my first show. Then, performing in productions at both Camps Louise and Airy became a passion. Our theater, known as Solarium, seemed larger than life, it felt like a Broadway stage to me back then. Aside from the everyday activities, I cherished the special camp traditions, from Friday night folk dancing to Shabbat services to Fourth of July parades and fireworks on the mountain to huge Airy/Louise carnivals.
insiderflashback2What was fashionable at that time?
Most mornings on the mountain called for heavy pajamas with sweatshirts, which has always been perfectly acceptable for breakfast. But on the rare warm morning when I was young, we wore boxer shorts! Also, we wore what we made: leather bracelets, belts and moccasins and, most recently, lots and lots of tie dye. The best thing about dressing for camp was — and still is — that if you need to wear something specific and you don’t have it, you just make it. I crack up because the girls at camp now bring lots of random, fun costumes to camp, and it’s very common to see a banana walk by on any given day.

What did you do in your down time?
Down time was when I made my most precious camp memories. It was during these times that I built friendships that have lasted many, many years. When I was a young camper, it was all about the jacks tournaments, but as time went on, we did girlie stuff like nail polish and skin care during our downtime. We bonded over letters from Camp Airy, treats sent from home and songs from the ’70s.

What has the camp experience been like for your children?
They are having a similar experience as I did in terms of the bonds they have made with fellow campers and staff. The brotherhood runs deep. Campers at both camps are much more active today. Some of the classic camp activities have been updated to suit the times. But what I love the most is that my boys are happiest working with others to paint the summer’s Olympic flag, eating Popsicles while watching fireworks or competing in the camp championship kickball game.

Service Learning, Jewish Learning Summer camps teach teens to care about community

insidercommserviceInformal Jewish education is a priority for Jewish summer camps, and in the spirit of tikkun olam, Jewish camps are embracing community service as a vehicle to strengthen campers’ connection to Judaism.

“There is growing research demonstrating the ways in which service learning is a vehicle for personal leadership development,” says Laura Menyuk, director of service-learning education at the American Jewish Society for Service. “At the same time, it grounds people both in their communities and responsibility to their communities, lending itself to the [overall] growth of [youth].”

Camps across the board, Menyuk says, are interested in incorporating community service into their programming.

Menyuk began interviewing Jewish summer camps about this when the Foundation for Jewish Camp approached AJSS about presenting at its Leaders Assembly in New Jersey in March.

Menyuk used the opportunity to ask, “What is Jewish service?”

Most of the camps she talked to already incorporated service into their programming, ranging from “a one-time activity to engagement with [longer-term] service as a vehicle for Jewish learning and leadership.”

While some camps may not consider how to define Jewish service per se, other camps have incorporated it into their philosophy.

“Part of the camp’s ideology has to do with social justice, so for many years we’ve done community service projects during the summer,” says Jennifer Silber, executive director of Habonim Dror Camp Moshava, an overnight camp located in Street, Md.

Silber added Habonim Dror’s movement is linked to the kibbutz movement in Israel, and its ideologies focus on “creating a more just society.”

Silber, who was interviewed by Menyuk, says Habonim Dror bases its community service projects around educational issues. Campers might visit a location in Harford or Baltimore counties and complete a project, then engage in discussion with the staff.

A past project centered on food deserts, which, Silber says, happens when an urban community has no source of fresh food markets within a reasonable distance. In response, Habonim Dror partnered with Repair the World, which also engages youth in volunteerism, and helped the community clean up a vacant plot and build a farm for residents to grow their own fresh produce.

Silber says the camp is planning its upcoming summer projects with the assistance of the Jewish Volunteer Connection.

The Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore’s Camp Machon offers a leadership training program for teens, says Brad Kerxton, director of Teen Camps at the JCC.

The program is split up into two-week themed sessions that incorporate Jewish values, such as looking at hunger in Baltimore City. The teens discuss the theme at camp and perform corresponding service in the community during the session.

Menyuk added that service projects are a great way to engage communities, but it’s important for campers to reflect on their own camp community too as a result of their projects.

Kerxton says the program aims to give teens an “appreciation for giving back, a stronger connection to the Baltimore Jewish community and Baltimore community as a whole and an appreciation for working with younger children.”

While community service is important for teens, Menyuk encouraged camps not to forget about younger children when developing their programs.

“Service learning is not just for teens,” says Menyuk, “and one of the things I have heard from day camps is that it would be great if organizations that have service opportunities [find ways] for younger kids (ages 5 to 12) to do service learning.”

‘A True Vacation’ Some camps aren’t just for kids

Pearlstone’s Family Farm Camp focuses on giving families an opportunity to enjoy nature and interact with animals.

Pearlstone’s Family Farm Camp focuses on giving families an opportunity to enjoy nature and interact with animals.

Parents often think of summer camp as a way to have some time away from their children, but more Jewish summer camps across the country are letting parents get away with their kids.

“It’s an incredible opportunity when your child can play with their peers and you, as a parent, can hang out with the other parents,” says Abigail Woloff, who attended the Pearlstone Center’s Family Farm Camp in Reisterstown with her husband and 2-year-old son. “The entire family feels included.”

Family camps are growing in popularity, especially among Jewish summer camps, where informal Jewish education is a high priority, and it’s not just fun for the kids.

“What brings you back to camp as an adult more than a campfire and music? Nothing,” says Liz Minkin-Friedman, who attended the same camp. “It lets adults explore and bring out their playful side. It’s a rare opportunity [where you are] truly escaping reality. We’re unplugged, not using our phones; we’re just present with our children.”

The camp’s program coordinator, Shauna Leavey, says the Family Farm Camp gives parents and children a hassle-free vacation without traveling too far. It focuses on hands-on activities such as gardening and taking care of the animals while also incorporating traditional camp activities such as swimming and sports.

Minkin-Friedman appreciates how easy it is to get away with her family. Typically, when parents vacation with kids, she says, they still have deal with the logistics, whereas “this was a true vacation because [everything is] taken care of, and there is so much freedom.”

Rachel Vaks attended the camp with her husband and five children.

“Family farm camp is a great place to spend some days in the summer,” says Vaks’ daughter, Sara Bracha, 9. “There are lots of activities for kids and adults. Every morning the kids wake up early and go outside to gather the eggs from the chickens. [They also] feed the chickens, goats and ducks.”

Woloff added that tending to animals each morning is an incredible experience they don’t get living in a city; it’s an experience she is grateful to give her son.

While Minkin-Friedman and Woloff both enjoy how close Pearlstone is to their front doors, others attend family camps out of state for a real change of pace.

insiderfamily2“We have people from all over [the country], and a lot of the time it’s a family reunion,” says Efrat Assulin, family camp director at Camp Yavneh in New Hampshire. “One family is a grandmother from Connecticut and her kids from Boston, California and Washington D.C.” She added that one summer, the camp hosted four different three-generation families.

Camp Yavneh offers a traditional summer camp session before its four-day family camp, but “my older son is 8, and he always says that family camp is better than regular camp,” says Assulin.

For those on the fence about trying a family camp, Woloff has some advice.

“It’s very difficult to not enjoy your time [at Pearlstone],” she says. “It’s just a great family vacation and an amazing thing to do together. To give your kids the memory of community in that way is very powerful.

A Haven for Artists Arts camp provides creativity, comfort for Orthodox girls

Mark and Chana Singer are the founders and  artistic directors of Camp Tizmoret Shoshana. (David Stuck)

Mark and Chana Singer are the founders and artistic directors of Camp Tizmoret Shoshana. (David Stuck)

Mark and Chana Singer’s expertise covers nearly every art form one can imagine — from writing and painting to music and puppetry.

Several years ago, when the husband-and-wife team were giving lessons to a group of girls — most of whom were Orthodox — they noticed how much passion the girls had for training in the arts.

“The summer was coming so we thought it would be good to get away and have an intensive [arts] session,” said Mark. Although they didn’t know it at the time, this was the beginning of Camp Tizmoret Shoshana.

“The whole point of Tizmoret Shoshana [is] to integrate the arts with spirituality,” said Mark.

The camp takes its name from the Hebrew word tizmoret, which means musical group, and an early supporter, Shoshana Feldman, who encouraged the Singers to continue running the camp even when they faced doubts.

What is unique about Camp Tizmoret Shoshana is that it caters specifically to the needs of frum girls.

“There are plenty of art camps and places to have arts experiences that are coed,” said Chana. “[But this camp fills a need] because  Orthodox girls are not going to be in coed settings.”

The camp, which is located in Copake, N.Y., caters to the Orthodox community in several ways. For  instance, they don’t hold performances during Shabbat, and campers are served kosher food.

The whole point of Tizmoret Shoshana [is] to  integrate the arts with spirituality.
— Mark Singer, co-founder of Camp Tizmoret Shoshana

The Singers and staff members insist it’s the girls who give the camp its character.

“I’ve seen campers through several summers change and grow,” said Jessica Schechter, the drama director. “It’s been really amazing to watch. The girls are really what make the camp.”

Schechter, who is a professional theater director in Manhattan, found the camp online several years ago. She contacted the Singers about a position teaching drama, and a spot eventually opened up.

Chani Levy (left), pictured here with camper Rachel Evans, teaches singing, songwriting and guitar at Camp Tizmoret Shoshana. (Provided)

Chani Levy (left), pictured here with camper Rachel Evans, teaches singing, songwriting and guitar at Camp Tizmoret Shoshana. (Provided)

“They had a Taste of Tizmoret , and it was kind of a tryout,” said Schechter. “It was a wonderful experience, and they hired me.”

Schecter has worked at the camp for six summers and said she  appreciates how safe the environment is for the girls to express their personality.

Mark added many arts-based camps are product-based — meaning the end goal is to win a competition — but this camp prides itself on valuing the process rather than the end result.

The couple has also worked with the Foundation for Jewish Camp and JCamp180 — both of which assist Jewish summer camps in  developing their programs — and said a part of the planning includes a possible expansion to create a similar camp for Orthodox boys.

But for now, the Singers are  focused improving the Camp  Tizmoret Shoshana experience and continue their dedication to creating a place for girls to express their  creative passions. The camp provides a safe place for them to be themselves.

“I love that it’s a real haven for artists. Chana and Mark encourage me to do my own artistry,” said Schechter, who freelances in Manhattan during the year. “It’s not just about getting through classes. They give me a place to explore with the girls, so I get to try new things  and experiment. It’s an amazing playground for that.”

Flashback: Alan Lazerow

Alan Lazerow, 32. (Photo by Justin Katz)

Alan Lazerow, 32. (Photo by Justin Katz)

Alan Lazerow, 32, grew up in Frederick, Md., but his parents were accustomed to the energetic Jewish community of Baltimore. Still, when they found out about Camp Shoresh, located in Adamstown, Md., just minutes from Frederick, they sent Lazerow to the Jewish summer camp from a young age. Thirty years later, Lazerow, a Baltimore attorney, is still engaged with the camp that he fell in love with as a child. But more so than the camp itself, Lazerow fell in love with the people he met — so much so that he always makes time once a year to drive to Frederick and get reacquainted with the camp and its campers.

When did you start attending Camp Shoresh?
I started going there when I was 2. Both of my parents grew up in the Baltimore Jewish community, and even though they weren’t Orthodox, they were always surrounded by Judaism. Then they moved to Frederick, where it’s not as bustling from a Jewish perspective. In school, I was likely the only one in each of my classes who was Jewish, and in high school, there were only a handful of Jews. [When my parents] found out about this Jewish camp, [it was] an opportunity for us to be exposed to Judaism, when the rest of the year we weren’t really around it all that much.

What about Shoresh kept you coming back?
I think that more than anything that kept me involved was that it was the same people [every year], so you really got to develop deep relationships. Although Shoresh started out just as a summer camp, it became a year-round organization, where you would form these relationships and blossom these relationships over the summer. But there would be events from which relationships would continue to grow — winter trips to Florida, to California, to Israel. I went Israel three times with Shoresh.


Alan Lazerow (photo provided)

Any final thoughts about Camp Shoresh?
It used to be that Jews were Jews, and you were or you weren’t Jewish, and that’s fine. But now everything is so divided. There’s Orthodox, Conservative, modern Orthodox; everybody wants to pigeonhole themselves into one thing. That’s the beauty of Shoresh; it’s going to the old-school model. We don’t care where you are on the Jewish path, we just want to continue you on that path wherever you may be. If that means you know nothing about Judaism and we teach you to read the [Hebrew] alphabet, then that’s great. It’s about continuing on the Jewish path; it’s about continuing the Jewish tradition and [that tradition] being passed down.

Nature Camps Provide Chances to Explore, Connect to the Earth Several Baltimore-area camps offer outdoor experiences

(Photos provided)

(Photos provided)

For 11-year-old Noah Lindquist, nature camp is his yearly reset  button after a year of being cooped up inside a classroom.

“It’s like his revitalization. He gets back to finding who he is after a year of being in the classroom,” his mother, Karen Levin, said. “I feel like he’s a relaxed, truer version of himself basically. He’s tired, happy, filthy every day he comes home and just kind of excited about what’s going on the next day.”

Noah attends Nature Camps, Inc., a 230-acre property of nature conservancy woodlands in Monkton. Each day, campers choose which activities they want to participate in and explore the woods, fields and streams with mixed-aged groups. There are camper and family overnights and concerts each session.

“It’s really old school in a really lovely way,” Levin said.

Nancy Kaplin, whose son Jonas attends Nature Camp, said the camp staffers have great respect for the kids and give them independence.

nature2“You can’t even believe the health and the utopian feeling of being there. It feels very peaceful, very open,” she said. “Everybody respects everybody, and there’s this incredible equality and just happiness. My son waits all year for the experience of going to nature camp.”

It’s just one of several nature camps in the Baltimore area that offer outdoor experiences for those who want to spend their summers reconnecting with nature.

In Owings Mills, the Irvine Nature Center allows campers to explore  116 acres of forest, wetlands and meadows.

“Irvine’s mission is to educate and inspire current and future generations to explore, respect and protect nature,” said camp director Steve Mickletz. “Out there, kids are finding bugs and salamanders under logs, playing ecologically themed games, running with butterfly nets in the meadow and sometimes getting muddy head to toe! We feature our live education animals as often as we can so kids can really get an up close encounter with critters they don’t  always get to meet outside.”

Deena Samantha Lucas worked as a counselor at Irvine in 2013 and 2014. A senior at Syracuse University, Lucas first interned at Irvine when she was in high school at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School.

nature3“I fell in love with it. I fell in love with the people in the field in general, but especially at Irvine,” she said. “The people have a positive and easy-going attitude. It’s laid-back and educational.”

Lucas loved the work so much that she decided to major in environmental education and interpretation.  At Irvine, she particularly enjoyed the outdoor classroom and making natural and recycled crafts. A highlight was the week that started with kids being squeamish about holding worms. Their attitudes had changed within a few days.

“By the end of the week they’re outside playing in the mud and wanting me to make mud for them to play in and they’re covered in it head to toe,” she said. “They went from uptight, scared of nature to  ‘I want to be in it and a part of it.’”

The Howard County Conservancy offers two summer nature day camps, both in and around Patapsco State Park. The camps offer weekly sessions with different themes including aquatic adventures, animal antics, backpack adventures, fossils and feathers, buggin’ out, among others.

“The Conservancy’s camps are designed to nurture respect for the natural world, increase awareness of environmental issues and instill a sense of stewardship,” a camp brochure says. “Our nature camps encourage children to learn about Howard County’s ecology and  natural history through fun and exciting hikes, experiments, stories and hands-on exploration of our nature center and parklands.”

The Ladew Topiary Gardens, also in Monkton, offer nature camp sessions for kids ages 4 to 15 that are staffed by naturalists, an art instructor and a former school teacher.  For younger campers, Ladew offers outdoor discovery walks, story time, crafts, games, butterfly house visits and puppet shows. For older campers (ages 9 and up), Ladew offers “Art in Nature Camp” where campers will blend art and environmental education through different design disciplines such as landscape architecture, sculpture and painting.

Summer of Youthful Appetite Weeklong camp in Pikesville turns kids into junior chefs

Katie Halushka, 14, prepares to roll sushi as a part of the Kids Cook summer camp at For the Love of Food in Pikesville. (Provided)

Katie Halushka, 14, prepares to roll sushi as a part of the Kids Cook summer camp at For the Love of Food in Pikesville. (Provided)

Each summer, kids as young as 8 years old flock to Pikesville to learn how they can cook like their favorite chef on TV at For the Love of Food’s Kids Cook camp. They spend weeks at a time learning how to cut, mix, sauté and bake along with several other kitchen skills.

For the Love of Food began in September 2000 in the home of Diane Bukatman, where she would teach pastry classes to groups of four. Over time her class size grew to eight due to word of mouth, and she found herself teaching classes on six nights a week. It was at that point she decided to start teaching classes for kids on Sunday afternoons.

“I realized that there was a real need,” she said. “At the time, there were no other kids’ classes.”

Bukatman later expanded this offering from once a week to holidays and finally to a full-scale Kids Cook camp in 2003.

“The very first summer that I  offered it, all the weeks filled up within months, and there was such a need for it. [It] was such a niche that everyone was looking for,” she said.

Offerings ranged from the basic “How to Think Like a Chef” course, which involved learning basic kitchen skills, to the more  advanced “Around the World in Five Days,” featuring cuisines from around the globe.

“We had kids with a lot of varying skills,” she said. “We recommended that if they had little to no skills that they start out with the ‘How to Think Like a Chef’ series [which features] a full day of knife skills, kitchen safety, kitchen sanitation — basically all the things you need to know to be safe in the kitchen.”

They have the exposure due to the television shows and things  of that nature so they have an  educated palate but an  uneducated way of looking  at food.
— Chef Thomas Casey


The second year of the camp, registration had filled up by the preceding January, and Bukatman said to herself, ‘OK, we have something here.’ After moving the camp into a building on Reisterstown Road, the weeklong sessions  expanded to 12 kids, and later to 15. Bukatman said 70 percent take multiple sessions, and some have taken as many as four in order to bone up on their culinary skills.

“They might have learned how to sauté and they want to keep learning how to sauté, but they want to learn how to sauté different foods and different sauces and different techniques,” she said. “They were really pretty good at knowing what they could and couldn’t do.”

Bukatman moved to Evergreen, Colo., two years ago, where she started a second chapter of For the Love of Food. She sold her original business to Chef Thomas Casey, who formerly worked at Four Seasons and The Grill at Harryman House as executive chef. Casey continues to teach “How to Think Like a Chef” and other originals, but he also tries to include an educational component about where food comes from and the science involved in cooking.

“We don’t bore them, but we let them know how food works,” he said. “And we remind them of the relationship of food to science studies and math studies.”

This summer, Casey is teaching eight weeklong classes between June and August, broken into age groups of 8 through 12 and 13 through 17. He said the classes have a fairly even gender ratio and many kids come in having learned a certain degree of food knowledge from celebrity chefs.

“They have the exposure due to the television shows and things of that nature, so they have an educated palate but an uneducated way of looking at food,” he said.

For the Love of Food is an opportunity for kids to exercise their inner chef well before culinary school. Katie Halushka, 14, caught the cooking bug from watching cooking shows with her mom when she was 8.

“This is what I like to do. I like to put things together that taste good,” she said.

Katie has taken Casey’s summer camp and last week took a one-day pasta course in which she learned to make tortellini and gnocchi. She said his hands-on approach to the camp has helped develop her  appetite to become a chef.

“Chef Thomas is really nice, and he understands kids and how they want to do things,” she said. “During the camps he just kind of gives you a recipe and lets you go with it.”

Katie has applied to the culinary program at the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology and created a garnish as part of the interview process last weekend, which she learned through an instructional YouTube video and advice from Casey. She finds out in March whether she has been accepted.

Her mother, Amy Rosewater Halushka, said she scoured the  Internet searching for opportunities for her daughter to quench her thirst for cooking during the summer. She said Katie is already at the stage of cooking entire dinners for the family and needed a more  advanced camp. After finding For the Love of Food, Halushka decided the drive from Lutherville would be worth it.

“Katie’s done two camps there,” she said. “She did a general cooking camp, and then she did a pastry camp last year for a week.”

Halushka thinks cooking shows have made the activity much more palatable than was the case a generation ago.

“I grew up with the Easy-Bake Oven, and that was it,” she said. “But Katie always wanted to be involved.”

Halushka said the parents get to taste the kids’ food on the last day of camp, and she herself took one of Casey’s sushi courses with her mother, who was visiting from Cleveland. She said Casey also made hors d’oeuvre for a fundraiser at the Bolton Street Synagogue, which they attend.

“He enjoys doing it, and I know he does it at a pretty high level,” she said of Casey. “He’s so good with the kids. He doesn’t make it  competitive like these talk shows.”

Big Money Capital Camps awarded $100,000 grant

capitalFor its groundbreaking work in the personal and professional development of its staff, a local Jewish summer camp was awarded a signature grant from a leading Jewish education philanthropy.

The Covenant Foundation awarded Capital Camps and Retreat Center a $100,000 grant over two years to develop the Institute for Leadership and Learning, a national fellowship program for veteran counselors at Jewish overnight camps to be modeled after the Capital Camps Institute for Leadership and Learning piloted last summer.

“We’re enormously grateful to the Covenant Foundation for their grant and their recognition of the significance of leadership development at Jewish summer camps,” said Jonah Geller, director and CEO of the camp and retreat center located in Waynesboro, Pa. “The foundation clearly values the impact that this program will have on Jewish communities beyond camp.”

In coordination with the Foundation for Jewish Camp, this summer, administrators from 10 Jewish summer camps will observe the CCI program with the intent of bringing the program to their own camps in the second year of the grant.

The CCI program was crafted in response to a common problem across summer camps: how to retain counselors in the 21- to 25-year-old age range.

“In the last few years, we’ve seen incredible growth in our retention rates with third- and fourth-year staff members,” said Rabbi Miriam Burg, director of Jewish life at Capital Camps, “but we also hear they’re under a lot of pressure to take a year off from camp and go get an internship somewhere. We wanted to create an opportunity for them at camp to come back and grow.”

Ten college-aged camp counselors were selected based on their leadership potential both at camp and in their communities. The CCI fellows participated in leadership development training for eight to 10 hours a week, in addition to their work as assistant village leaders, assistant specialty area coordinators and other middle management positions at the camp.

Dr. Erica Brown, an award-winning Jewish educator and author, wrote the curriculum that combined leadership seminars, case study analysis, guest speaker presentations, character circles, weekly reflections and mentoring. Geller, Burg, Brown and associate camp director Adam Broms facilitated the weekly sessions.

The pilot program was made possible through funding from the Jacob and Hilda Blaustein Fund of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

Said Geller: “[The fellows] came into the program not really having a full understanding or comprehension of what leadership development is all about. By the end of the summer, they had come to embrace leadership development, as well as discussions about how to enhance  their own personal and professional leadership skills.”

Adiva Berkowitz, 21, one of the inaugural fellows, praised CCI and said the skills she learned not only proved valuable at camp, but also at Dickinson College where she is a resident advisor and serves on the Hillel board.

“One of the things we learned was how to have tough conversations,” said Berkowitz, who grew up in Pikesville. “When I have to have tough conversations with staff members, it was great because I could open up my binder before [the conversation] and be prepared instead of doing it on the fly.”

The heightened sense of camaraderie was a surprise benefit, said Berkowitz, and it was eye-opening to see the diversity of leadership styles. “[We learned] how to work with others with different leadership styles and work together to strengthen the program. That’s what made us so strong as a group; we were so different and brought different things to the table.”

“Camp is a unique opportunity for this learning laboratory,” said Burg. “There’s a real dynamism with the work they’re doing today [and] the opportunities for growth are huge.”

One of the first seminars, said Burg, focuses on risk taking and vulnerability. “When you’re with a group of people you’ve known for a long time it’s easier to access the courage you need to take to be vulnerable to grow and learn. We felt there was an opportunity here that we wanted to maximize.”

Capital Camps’ administrative team expressed their eagerness to share their experience with other Jewish summer camps.

“We don’t think we know more than other camps. What we did do is invest time and money,” said Burg. “Our hope is that we’ll bring these 10 camps together and as a cohort, as a group, we’ll be able to share the model we developed.”

“It’s about the opportunity to share. That’s really what Covenant gave us,” she concluded.

The Capital Camps grant, said a spokesperson for the Covenant Foundation, “will have reverberations across the country.”

Harlene Winnick Appelman, executive director of the Covenant Foundation, added that once Capital Camps’ went through the foundation’s rigorous yearlong review process, it was a “no-brainer” to invest in the project, as it meets the Foundation’s core belief in developing “better educated, inspired Jews.”

“We know that successful organizations require great leadership development on all levels from board members to year-round staff to fourth year staff members,” said Geller. “Our commitment to leadership development runs deep.”

Mail Call Parents, campers stay in touch with the use of technology

(Photos provided)

(Photos provided)

There was a time not long ago when a child awaiting a handwritten and addressed letter from home was a sleep-away camp rite.

But that has changed considerably in the past five years due to technology programs offered to parents and families that enable same-day communication (and photos) with campers. Some say this progress is for the better, while others feel differently.

One technological advancement is the Web-based CampMinder.

“CampMinder is what I would call our one-stop shop,” Marty Rochlin, director of Camp Airy says. It provides “camp database management. We use CampMinder to log our leads, track enrollment, register campers, [manage] the financials, and it allows our families to communicate and keep up with what’s happening at camp in a variety of ways.”

Once a camper is enrolled, Rochlin says, they have a CampMinder account that is accessible all year. But once summer arrives and a child goes off to camp, the program’s CampInTouch interface becomes accessible. The family  incurs fees only for the summertime features if at all. Camps cover all costs for registration and general communication features. The entire account is password-protected and all users receive technical assistance from the service provider.

The CampInTouch portal allows families to send letters via email to a camper. The email is printed out and then delivered to the camper during mail call. The camper can  respond by handwriting a letter on a barcoded piece of paper, which is then scanned and faxed to a designated number. The barcode information connects a camper’s name with a parent/family inbox and the letter is delivered to the assigned inbox. There is no computer screen time  allowed the child during camp, which is a rule that all of the companies  and camps strictly adhere to for the duration of the summer and for the benefit of the camper.

CampInTouch also gives family or friends access to photo galleries uploaded by the camp daily or sometimes multiple times a day. Parents and families can mark  photos as favorites and even create galleries that are archived online.

Paul Berliner has been CampMinder president for eight years of its 14-year existence, and he says the company provides service to more than 700 camps across the country. In real terms, he adds, that translates to more than 5 million photos uploaded just in the summer of 2015.

parents2“All this technology — it’s great but it can be a hindrance especially when it comes to camp,” says Rachael Abrams, parent outreach specialist at Jewish Community Services in Baltimore who has experienced a camp communication service firsthand with her own child. Abrams has heard stories of parents asking children to give secret signs in photos, such as telling a child to hold up two fingers if you’re happy and three fingers if you’re sad when being photographed. There is even pressure kids might feel to be in as many photos as possible so his or her parents will see them posted online. “The beauty of being at camp is to not be bothered by pressures and stress that [children] get the rest of the year.”

Abrams makes the point that a photo of your child at camp is “just a snapshot — maybe the picture was taken when [your child looked] sad,” but that’s a fraction of a moment in a greater camp experience. “We’re overanalyzing what we see,” Abrams says. “If the photographer were on your kid all day you’d see more  than that. Highs and lows happen all day long.”

Of course, Abrams says, if you see something that concerns you as a parent you should definitely contact the camp but, she adds, “You send your kids to camp to learn life skills, [such as] how to function in a group, how to problem solve, navigate social situations, prioritize, socialize. That’s the beauty — your kid learns to do that on their own.”

While CampMinder’s primary focus began as a company providing business and fund raising management tools for camps and the communication features came after, that was just the opposite for Ari Ackerman, the founder of Bunk1 and the pioneer of parent/camper communications.

More than 15 years ago Ackerman, then a recent graduate of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business, wasn’t quite ready to let go of his years spent as a camper and counselor. With a business plan and an old car to his name, he drove about 3,000 miles in the summer of 1999 to visit about 150 camps in the Midwest in order to personally sell his vision for what he saw as a unique service he could provide parents who were desperately missing their children who were away at summer camp.

“That first summer of 2000, we had about 50 camps” enrolled in the newly created Bunk1 Ackerman says. “But in 2001 we spiked, we had about 250 camps. As soon as a  parent heard from another parent that they saw pictures of their kids [online] at camp, everyone wanted to do it. It became a pretty big splash pretty fast” and received lots of media attention including a live CNN interview during that first summer in 2000 and many since.

parents3Because Bunk1 pioneered the field, its summer communication portal to use the photo gallery, Bunk Notes and Bunk Replies works in a similar manner to CampInTouch. But Bunk1 “works to innovate” says Ackerman, and also offers camps a newsletter option, video and podcast services as well as a full-service camp registration and management system.

But in the summer of 2016 they’ll release a new feature that is “so cool, like really Disney-level cool.” It’s going to make everything so much easier and cool for the camper, the parent and the director,” and Ackerman adds, “I’m always very proud of the amazing technology but what I really love about it is that it doesn’t interfere in what goes on at camp. [Using Bunk1] is a way for parents to feel more secure and comfortable with what’s going on at their kids’ camp. It’s really all for parents. The kids get to play.”

Ackerman says his company services between 500 and 600 camps, with about 1000 parents per camp (that doesn’t include use by grandparents, friends, etc.) so “it’s not unreasonable to say about one million people go through Bunk1 in a summer.”

CampMinder distinguishes itself by offering the only product out there that encompasses the camp  experience and beyond Berliner says.

“We’re giving camps some really powerful tools (called the Unified Person Record) to increase their fundraising and recruitment efforts. We’re focused on the idea that a camper today is a potential parent tomorrow and then a potential donor. We want to help a camp in the summer of 2016, but then leverage [its] success into 2017 and beyond.”

Back in the real world of camp, Rochlin says, “Sometimes our kids are having too much fun to stop and write a letter,” though counselors encourage it because they know it means a lot to parents but instead of being sent to the mailbox they go to the office inbox to be scanned and sent.

“I think what has remained true, over 30 years timeframe,” Rochlin says, “is that everybody loves to be on the receiving end of mail. Via email or a letter folded up and sealed with a kiss, people love getting mail. That doesn’t change.”