Member Communications 6 min read

Reclaim Summer with JCC Camps

By JCC Milwaukee February 4, 2021
children in tall grass playing and laughing

Close your eyes.

Picture yourself when you were a child – playing outside, getting dirty, feeling the sun on your face, and laughing with a friend.

This is what summer should feel like, and for generations of kids JCC day and overnight camps have been the place where summer happens.

“Last March, we were gearing up for one of our biggest summers on record with options for campers of all ages to gain confidence, discover their Jewish identity, try something new, take risks, and build community,” remembers Mark Shapiro, President and CEO of the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center.

Almost immediately, as the world shut down mid-March, JCC day and overnight camp teams were actively engaging with experts and their colleagues throughout the country to prepare for the myriad of decisions and strategic conversations that would fill the spring. JCC Leadership presented a decision-making matrix to the community that would guide strategic planning throughout the agency, including plans for Summer 2020.

“Supporting our families through this crisis remained top-of-mind for our team,” explains Lenny Kass, Director of the Albert & Ann Deshur JCC Rainbow Day Camp. “In addition to our mission to provide meaningful camper experiences focusing on the importance of play in childhood development, we recognize that for many families, day camp provides an essential service for working parents.”

So, the Day Camp Team started from scratch and began to ask what could be possible. Taking all of the guidelines from the American Camp Association, the CDC, State and local health departments, and the JCC’s decision-making matrix, they rebuilt a program that was not quite the day camp experience families knew, but was instead an entirely redeveloped Youth Summer Program that could be executed not only with camper health and safety as a top priority, but also to make sure it could still be FUN! Campers moved through camp in smaller units that each had their own space to explore, and the separation of these units even carried through to bussing.

The lessons learned from the successes of last year’s Youth Summer Programs in Fredonia have served to inform the offerings that are being planned for JCC day camp and overnight camp this year. And with a 110-acre campsite in Fredonia that has seen recent large-scale capital improvements (including a gym!), Albert & Ann Deshur JCC Rainbow Day Camp will be the home for all JCC day camp programs this summer.

“Now more than ever, children deserve a summer of fun. They deserve to laugh, play games, explore nature, and break free from the screens that have dominated this year of virtual school,” declares Shelby Elias, Associate Director of JCC Rainbow Day Camp. “We can’t wait to share another summer with our campers. Even behind the masks, their smiles warm our hearts.”

For campers of the Steve & Shari Sadek Family Camp Interlaken JCC, this summer’s return to Eagle River will be even more sweet. In May 2020, when JCC and overnight camp leadership had to make the tough decision to suspend the summer season, the entire Interlaken community grieved. “We all knew what it meant to miss a summer at camp: the friendships, the beautiful setting on the shores of Lake Finley, the traditions. And maybe most of all, the unique joy of Shabbat at camp,” recalls Toni Davison Levenberg, Director of Camp Interlaken JCC.

Seizing an opportunity to engage with the camp community outside the 54521 Eagle River ZIP code, camp leadership worked quickly to bring the ruach (spirit) of camp into the homes of their campers and alumni by launching a new Facebook Group, creating online engagement programs filled with music and traditions, and sending a “Shabbox” filled with fun items to every camper and staff family for an online Shabbat gathering held at the beginning of each session. Thanks to the generosity of the Clarice S. Turer Charitable Fund of the Jewish Community Foundation, they were able to send 380 Shabboxes to every 2020 Interlaken family at no cost.

“The connections we made last summer really reinforced that our camp community is truly a family,” reflects Tova Blasberg, Camp Interlaken Program Director. “And our campers will see that focus on family this summer as we return to in-person programming on the shores of Lake Finley.”

Following the guidelines of the American Camp Association, CDC, State health department, and Interlaken’s own medical committee, each cabin will experience camp as a family unit, staying together throughout the day for all programs and meals. And they look forward to introducing a new catchphrase to camp this year, “There will always be masking where there will be mixing.”

Because of the new protocols, Blasberg expects that the bonds campers have with their cabin mates and counselors will be even stronger and more special than they have been in the past. “We know we can ‘do Interlaken’ in different, imaginative, and creative ways this summer, and we are looking forward to the new traditions and lessons that may come out of this time. We may discover things in 2021 that are so awesome we will wonder how we never thought to introduce them before!”

Click here to learn more about Steve & Shari Sadek Family Camp Interlaken JCC
Click here to learn more about Albert & Ann Deshur JCC Rainbow Day Camp

“The JCC’s commitment to youth and families was shown more strongly than ever before by the experiences they put together last summer. School closures have been devastating for my children, and the JCC has been the one institution in their life that has been able to help meet their needs during the pandemic. The JCC is our home away from home, and we love it more than ever!”

–2020 Youth Summer Program Parent