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Sunday, July 12, 2020

Summer Camp Goes Virtual Amid COVID-19

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Erin Ben-Moche
Erin is the Digital Content Manager at the Jewish Journal. She writes about Jewish art and culture.

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On May 18, Camp Bob Waldorf announced that all in-person camp programs would be canceled for the 2020 summer season. The decision was made after listening to public health officials, national camp leaders and their staff and Board of Directors.

“We believe that you and your campers deserve the clarity, that while painful, allows for grieving, healing and moving forward towards hope, joy, and better days ahead,” camp director Dale Decker wrote in a letter to the camp community. “This also enables our team to plan and create exciting camp programs that you can experience with us at home.”

To this end, Bob Waldorf has created four virtual components in an effort to recreate the camp experience virtually. Virtual camp will kick of July 6. Registered campers will each receive “Camp in a Box,”  filled with activities, art supplies, a camp shirt, science kits and friendship bracelet string to enjoy during the virtual programming. The other components are virtual bunks, virtual field trips and community outreach programs, including community Shabbat services.

“We added the virtual bunks and virtual field trips to build a sense of community,” Cari Uslan, executive vice president of Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles and the Foundation for Camp Bob Waldorf, told the Journal. “When camp is in person, the community feeling that develops among campers and staff is one of the strongest values and experiences of the summer. Since we can’t come together physically, we wanted to find a way to still build community in the virtual setting. We feel that giving campers time to connect with each other and the counselors in virtual bunks and on virtual field trips will achieve that goal.”

Bob Waldorf is working on creating a plethora of camp activities including story time, arts and crafts, talent shows, dances and group games. Virtual camp will be available through Zoom and may include some live streaming via social media and the camp’s website. Programs and games will be presented daily and weekly, giving campers the opportunity to opt in as often as they choose. Campers will also meet staff at three distribution locations around Los Angeles to pick up “Camp in a Box” supplies.

For day camps and overnight camps still unsure how to modify in-person programs for Zoom, Trybal Gatherings’ Day Camp Boot Camp is offering engagement strategies.

“To camplify your programming means to bring the magic of connection, relationships, and meaning to the user experience, whether that’s in-person or not,” Carine Warsawski, founder of Trybal Gatherings said. “The Boot Camp is a fun environment to learn about all the strategies and tools to deliver the best online programming.”

Beginning May 26, Trybal Gatherings — which during non-pandemic times hosts all-inclusive adult Jewish camp experiences —  will help JCCs, Federations, day schools, pre-schools, synagogues, foundations and start-ups gear up for online programming during Day Camp Boot Camp. The second-session online camp-style gathering will prepare leaders to hone their skills and keep summer programming strong.

Electives include how to cultivate a ritual community virtually; implement games, music and videos into any program; utilize Zoom creatively, and the best tech and camera tricks everyone should know to lead a smooth and professional looking program.

Lauren Silverman, senior young adult engagement associate at The Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, participated in the first Boot Camp hosted by Trybal Gatherings. “As a Jewish professional looking to create new ways of connecting virtually, Day Camp provided me with ideas for refreshing my own communal programs and I can’t wait to share them with my home community,” she said.

Warsawski noted that there is a “sweet-spot” in creating and operating fun programming for staff members and campers without bringing on Zoom fatigue. “People can join from anywhere in the world, and that’s great,” she said.  “But program leaders need to know how to deliver an experience that is inclusive, accessible and offers the entertainment and connections to keep participants coming back. Good online experiences are bite-size programs that pack a punch.”

Day Camp Boot Camp Session 2 is May 26 from 9-11 a.m. PT. Register online by Monday, May 25 at 9 a.m. PT or until spaces run out.

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