As we began to emerge from the isolation of COVID this spring, one of the aspects of life many families were looking forward to was summer camp. What better way to return to sense of normal life than kids getting a chance to be away from their parents, who they had been cooped up with for 16 months, and be together with their friends, who they hadn’t seem in 22 months. But as we have learned this summer, the best laid post-COVID plans often go awry.
Some of the challenges facing summer camps have been disruptions in the supply chain that prevent them from getting food and other essentials; a shortage of staff as young people find they can command better salaries in other summer jobs; new COVID outbreaks; and low staff moral as bubble environments necessitated by the pandemic have counselors feeling cooped up and overworked. One camp in New Hampshire was forced to close down after just six days.
I have mostly observed this phenomenon from afar through news reports because my kids are having an amazing time at Camp Ramah in New England. This year I have a unique perspective as the father of both campers and staff, and I have seen how the expert leadership of the camp has navigated the challenges of a COVID summer. Everyone is well fed with options I would never have dreamed of in my time at camp decades ago.
While there are fewer staff, the camp has communicated to us parents what this will mean for the kids’ and our experience. There are no outside sports or arts experts who will visit this summer and you know what? That’s OK. Bunk counselors can run the basketball or arts and crafts activities just fine. We can’t send packages because there is no staff to sort them, but our kids will survive without the tchotchkes we would have sent (no food was allowed even in years past). There is no staff photographer, but I actually don’t mind not having to sift through thousands of pictures to find the partially obscured half shoulder of my kid.
What Camp Ramah does have is a dedicated, caring, and well-trained group of staff excited to make this a summer to remember for their kids. And the camp is looking out for their workers’ wellbeing too. Even though they can’t leave for evenings or days off, they get special meals each night when the kids go to bed and a free coffee/tea bar that will make them any beverage they want. The camp even rented out a theater for staff to watch a movie on a day off and created a Staff Life Committee to make sure there was good communication throughout the summer.
The horror stories of summer camping this season have reinforced the age-old truism that good preparation leads to good results. Creating a successful summer is not in any way a given; it requires careful planning and execution. Camp Ramah in New England has given a tremendous gift to our children – the chance once again to just be kids and live in a joyous Jewish community. Every time I see a picture or video of smiling faces, I try and appreciate all the hard work and effort that went into that amazing moment.