To Camp or Not To Camp? - Foundation for Jewish Camp
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By Eileen Snow Price, CEO of In the City Camps

I’m a mom and a camp CEO. I get it, we want a break FOR our kids, and we want a break FROM our kids. But, as parents, isn’t our primary job to keep our children safe?

Given the public health guidelines and evidence from other countries about what can happen when too many people get together too quickly, In the City Camps (based in Atlanta) made the decision to offer virtual camp during the month of June. We are still evaluating what will do in July and, while cautiously optimistic, are planning with the health and safety of our campers, counselors, and camper families at the forefront.

For the past seven weeks, Atlanta has been sheltering in place and our schools have been closed. During that first week, we began offering Virtual Camp each afternoon for 30 minutes. It’s free for campers and we have about 75 kids participate each week. Soon after launching these activities – charades, yoga, stand-up comedy, makerspace, scavenger hunts, story time – we created Virtual Bunks, which allow children to connect with others their age for social time and games facilitated by trained teen counselors twice each week. We had 140 kids participate in this month-long experience and have hired 24 counselors, which is especially important to us given the increasing rates of unemployment in our community.

Through our ability and willingness to try new ideas, we’ve found that virtual experiences can be very meaningful for campers and rewarding for our staff. Plus, the parents appreciate the break it gives them during the day. They know their kids are safe with us and having a good time, so they can relax for a little while or get some work done.

Here are some tips for getting started:

  1. Don’t be afraid. One of In the City Camps core philosophies is to try new things, but in these uncertain times, even we can be fearful to try something new. Not every idea we hatch works, but a lot do, and others just need tweaking, so think outside of the box and give your idea a try!
  2. Be true to your brand. When developing our virtual experiences, the idea of camper choice has been integral since it’s one of our camp’s differentiators. Maybe your camp is centered on being outside. Don’t shy away from that when thinking about virtual programming.
  3. Provide value. Many of our offerings have been free, but some require payment. Be sure that when you ask people to pay, you are creating a meaningful experience for them. Otherwise, once life “goes back to normal,” you’ve likely lost that family.
  4. Ask for help when you need it. I am lucky to have amazing donors and a Board that is always willing to help, as well as an amazing team. I often also rely on colleagues for advice and to bounce ideas off of. That’s part of why In the City Camps created packages complete with online training, staff manuals, programming guides, and more to help other communities replicate the virtual experiences we have found to be most successful. You can check out all the details here.
  5. Have fun! If you and your staff are having fun and coming at this from a place of love and positivity, your campers will have the joyful experience you want them to have.

There is no doubt that this summer will be different. Let’s give it our all and make it the best one we can – for us, for our staff, and most of all FOR THE KIDS!

 

As a former Jewish day and overnight camper and counselor, Eileen Snow Price understands first hand the positive impact a Jewish camp experience has on a child. In 2012, she founded In the City Camps (ITC), a Jewish day camp that delivers the proven outcomes of overnight camp: lifelong friendships, personal growth, and a meaningful connection to the Jewish community and Israel. ITC now provides a fun, safe, Jewish summer camp experience for 140 Jewish kids each week and boasts three locations in metro Atlanta! Eileen is a native of Atlanta; she is most passionate about the Atlanta Jewish community, Israel, and her family.