Camp Laurelwood in Madison, Connecticut will celebrate its 85th summer season this year—and it’s bound to be the best yet.
That’s no small feat at any time—but given that what is expected to be a blockbuster 2022 season comes just two summers after the COVID-19 pandemic forced Connecticut’s only overnight camp to close down, offering only three weeks of a family day camp instead, makes the accomplishment especially awesome.
“We offered a refund to every family who had signed up for that camp session,” says Rabbi James Greene, Laurelwood’s executive director, reflecting back on the summer that wasn’t.
“We had individual conversations with every family, and asked them to consider donating a portion of the tuition to help keep the camp running. We also invited families to roll over the tuition for this previous summer,” he notes.
This past summer, Laurelwood, along with other area camps, implemented precautions to ensure the health and safety of campers and staff, including requiring two negative PCR tests upon arrival, mandatory mask wearing and vaccination requirements for staffers. A vaccination clinic was also offered for international staff members who had yet to receive the vaccine.
These precautionary measures proved effective, and the summer ended without even one camper or staff member getting sick.
In preparation for the second post-COVID summer, Rabbi Greene says Laurelwood will focus on a new camper care initiative called MESH (Mental, Emotional, Social, Spiritual Health).
“MESH isn’t one place that campers go or one thing they do; it’s a holistic view of camp and the camper as a whole,” Greene explains. “We really learned that mental, emotional, social and spiritual health is a top priority and we recognized during COVID that there is a stronger, more pressing need to incorporate this type of programming into the camp community.”
In addition to the creation of a MESH committee to oversee this critical work, Camp Laurelwood will partner with the Jewish Family Services of Greater Hartford to “meet each camper at their point of availability,” says Greene. “The goal is to send campers home a better versions of themselves.”
With a better grasp and greater knowledge of the COVID virus than existed the previous two summers, residential camps are now able to create spaces that are safe and COVID-free.
“All of our staff members are vaccinated. Last year, the rate of vaccination among eligible campers was 90%, and I presume it will be even higher this year,” Greene says. “We know more about COVID now than we did at this time last year, and people in our community are understanding their responsibility to protect others. We teach kindness and an understanding that we are all responsible for one another. It’s a Jewish value.”
And that’s just what Camp Laurelwood sets out to do every summer: To teach and encourage young Jewish campers to think about the many ways in which their Jewishness can change them, as well as the world around them.
“Jewish camp is, I believe, the single most impactful thing we can offer our children and families to increase Jewish identities and strengthen Jewish activities,” Greene points out.
“I don’t believe Jewish camps make you more Jewish,” he says. “It’s a place where you can ask not how Jewish are you but how do you want to be Jewish? It’s one of the only places in the Jewish world where we can intentionally ask that question.”