By Denise Heimlich
This is the first in a series of blogs about preparing for the summer that we’ll be posting over the next several months.
When I tell people that I work for a summer camp, they sometimes assume that I only work during the summer. When I explain that it’s a year-round job, they look puzzled and ask, “what’s there to do the rest of the year?”
Preparing for the summer actually begins more than a year in advance (think video, brochures, website). The fall is primarily spent on recruiting and registering campers and interviewing staff. Then things really kick into high gear after the first of the year. We begin the planning season in January during a weekend at camp, where we work with our talented unit heads (leaders of Kallah, Tzofim, etc.) and dedicated faculty (rabbis, cantors and educators who spend 2 or 3 weeks at camp working with a specific unit).
To keep track of all that’s going on throughout the year, there’s a calendar in my office – one of those wet erase versions where you add the dates yourself. It covers 4 months at a time, with the usual holidays, vacations, camp events, and birthdays.
(Fun Fact: Speaking of birthdays, between OSRUI, NFTY and other URJ departments, there are 20 people connected to the Chicago area office in Deerfield. Almost half of us have birthdays between January 31 and March 2. I’m not sure what that means, except that we eat a lot of cake in February.)
Invariably, when we look over the calendar for February to May, there’s that moment when our collective jaws drop because we realize that Memorial Day, our start to the summer when staff moves to camp, is just a few months away.
Besides preparing fun activities, creating meaningful Jewish learning, making sure any updates to the grounds and buildings are completed on time, and hiring nurturing, talented staff, one of the main ways we get ready for the summer is learning about our campers. We rely on our parents to tell us everything they can about their child, by way of filling out lots (and lots) of forms.
There are forms parents fill out online: the Health History form (everything from allergies to sleep walking) … the Transportation Form (bus? airplane? driving?) … the ever-popular Bunk Request form (if your child wants to be in the cabin/tent with 1 or 2 friends, don’t forget this one) … forms for campers who are signed up for horseback riding or waterskiing … a form for campers who will be celebrating a bar/bat mitzvah in the months after camp (Mazel Tov!) and need to review with a faculty member during their session … a form for picking your chug (elective). And then there’s a couple of printed forms, to be filled out and uploaded: medical forms for the doctor to fill out and an insurance/permission form.
But my favorite form (if one can have a favorite form), is the Camper Information Form. While medical information is all gathered from the health forms, this is where we really learn about your camper’s personality. Is your child shy? outgoing? afraid of the dark? And campers can tell us about themselves – special talents or interests, and what they are looking forward to doing at camp.
All of this information helps us get to know your campers before they arrive on opening day, ensuring that we are prepared to help them have an awesome, safe, and healthy time at camp.
Occasionally, when chatting with parents, an issue will come up and the parent will say … “but that’s really only a concern at school.” I always remind them that, while camp definitely is not school (after all, there are no ziplines or waterslides at school!), there is a lot of learning to be done at camp, whether it’s gaga rules or Israeli dance steps. And the more we know, the better we can plan to make sure that your camper has a wonderful, meaningful and fun summer with us.
So to our parents we say thank you, thank you, for filling out those forms, honestly and completely … and on time!
Denise Heimlich is an OSRUI assistant director, focusing on Marketing and Development. She served for many years as registrar, logging in lots and lots of camper forms.