Children attending Jewish camps throughout the South this summer will find new activities and buildings as camps used the off-season and the pandemic shutdown to prepare for 2021. Many of these new activities and changes have focused around making camp experiences as normal as possible during COVID-19 but ensuring that campers remain safe.
While renovations and construction of new facilities has continued, camps were able to use the downtime to prepare for a camping season with COVID. The pandemic last year either caused camps to be put on hold, held online or in person without months of preparation. As a result, Atlanta area camps, from overnight to day camps, have a variety of new experiences waiting for campers this summer.
At URJ Camp Coleman, there is excitement about a new arts center. Camp director Bobby Harris discussed the new facility with the AJT. He said the center “can fit our entire camp in one seating. Its purpose is to really elevate the performing arts at Coleman, to enable us to have the best arts, performances and instruction possible.”
The current facility required some people to sit on the floor and there were distractions from the sounds of nature. So the camp is looking forward to having a space that will allow for more concentration, Harris said.
The new facility will also allow campers to be trained by professionals. Coleman has a number of professional experts who will be helping capitalize on this new space, training staff and students, and learning how to further incorporate the performing arts as part of the camp. “This is about a vision where art, music, theater can take flight with top-of-the-line instruction, and provide these really educational experiences to our kids,” Harris said.
He hopes it will allow the camp to also expand who attends performances, attracting more campers who are looking for theater, music, and art-related experiences. “We also want to attract campers who may be going to one camp locally that they love [for] art, but they may have to compromise between a Jewish camp and an arts camp. This will allow them to go to one in the same.”
In the City Camps are substantially expanding their camp offerings this summer with a new program for sixth through ninth grades called the “Tween Academy Camps,” in partnership with The Weber School.
“The goal of these camps is to give these teenage kids an elevated sort of experience in those [Weber] high school facilities with an expert in their field,” Tali Benjamin, marketing director for In the City Camps, told the AJT. She explained that campers will have four different options when choosing concentrations: innovation, sports, visual arts and performing arts. Each section will be headed by an expert in the field, such as innovation, which will be based out of the Daniel Zalik Academy and led by a teacher who works there.
The Weber-based camps will only run in July as that is when campers will have access to the campus. There will be other changes as well, largely to address COVID-19 concerns. There will be no off-site field trips because of safety concerns, but in exchange, they will have on-site field trips every Wednesday, where special guests and experiences will be brought to the camp sites. Benjamin described it as “a special activity that will be brought to us,” allowing campers to have a sense of normal camp experiences.
At Camp Barney Medintz, preparations have been made to ensure that campers can get the most out of camp during COVID-19.
Barney director Jim Mittenthal told the AJT, “We want people excited about the additions, not just talking about what they may not be able to do because of COVID.
“For new kids, everything is new, and you don’t have to do anything new. But for all the returning kids, we wanted them to say, ‘oh we haven’t done that before.’”
There are a variety of new activities for campers this summer, he said, ranging from cooking to theater, as well as new aspects to rope courses and ziplines. The camp will also be opening “The Den” cabin to offer a soothing, comfortable place for campers and staff to take a break from the ‘noise’ of camp life,” he said.
At a time when mental health concerns have surged during the COVID-19 pandemic, The Den will help students process emotions and get the help they need from professional staff, he said.
Camp Ramah Darom will be focusing on new outdoor activities that will allow for safe, comfortable and exciting experiences for their campers. Camp Director Anna Serviansky told the AJT, “We are looking at a lot of new outdoor activities and games this summer; including bubble soccer, lawn bowling and some life-size board games.” Given the needs for socially distanced and outdoor activities, Ramah is hoping to capitalize on the opportunity. “This year we were really focusing on other things that we could do outside that we haven’t done before. We want to do new outdoor activities that are gonna be delightful and that they [campers] probably haven’t done before and can only do in camp because we have the space to do these sorts of things.”
COVID-19 is imposing some limits on camps, but it is also allowing for exciting new opportunities that wouldn’t have been done, as camps shift toward more outdoor activities as well as mindfulness-focused experiences.
The Marcus Jewish Community Center has been busy during the off-season making major renovations and upgrades to existing experiences. Mackenzie Sherman, director of Camp Isidore Alterman, expressed excitement about the newly upgraded facilities campers will be able to explore this summer.
“Our higher ropes course has been totally overhauled,” with new facilities allowing campers “to go as high as they want and be let down easy.”
The zipline across the lake on campus has also been upgraded. “We have built a suspension bridge in the canopies of the trees that lead up to the zip tower, so now kids can walk up a series of suspension bridges to get to the zip tower, where they will actually then zip line down across our lake.”
The camp’s archery program has “been totally revamped,” Sherman said. “The whole landscape has been renovated, widened, brush cleared out; it is an entirely different range,” he said. “It is really a game changer for us.”
For campers more introspective, a new yoga program for children and teenagers will be available for those at Camp Alterman. Sherman said that the new program, headed by an instructor certified in yoga for children, will “give campers the time to slow down mentally in the summertime with the year we have all had.” As with many activities this summer, Sherman said, “It will all be outside, in a socially distanced manner, so campers can enjoy themselves safely and comfortably.”
To keep up with the latest in summer camp news, check back often to the Atlanta Jewish Connector, www.atlantajewishconnector.com.