Summer 2020 Update

We know that our campers, staff, and families alike count down the months, days, and minutes until the start of Ranch Camp each summer. In Judaism we constantly lean on text to help us navigate moments of grief and explore feelings of uncertainty, to offer us clarity when we cannot see and to embrace us in the warmth of a hug when we cannot touch. This piece, by Jamie Anderson, so beautifully captures our heartache:

“Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.”

JCC Ranch Camp is more than just a summer camp. It is a community and a home away from home, where so many are able to be their best selves, connect to nature, develop deep friendships, and explore Judaism. Our top priority summer after summer is the physical, emotional, and spiritual safety of everyone who comes through our gates. Without meeting this basic need, none of the magic that fills every moment at camp can happen.

With a heavy heart and a clear mind, we made the very difficult decision to cancel our 2020 season to ensure the safety of our community. The CDC Guidelines and the local Health Department requirements make our normal camp experience nearly impossible. 

If we have learned anything during this new reality that we are living in, it is that flexibility is the key to making it through the day to day. Fortunately, we are camp people, and flexibility is at the core of the work we do. When we made the decision to cancel our regular summer season, we stretched and put together the plans for Family Camp which we felt would give the connection to the things we are all craving right now: camp, nature, Judaism, and most of all, each other.

We have continued to follow along with the updated and ever changing guidance of the CDC, the American Camping Association, and the local, state, federal government. With our most up-to-date information, we made the heartbreaking decision to not run Family Camp this summer.

In light of our new reality, we were excited to introduce Ranch Camp 2020 Virtual Connections, a virtual experience for campers that will take place in July! 

We have been working tirelessly to concentrate the essence and magic of Ranch Camp into short programs with small groups of campers.The goal of Virtual Connections is to help campers connect to their peers in their unit and to participate in special unit programming so that they feel as if they were truly with us this summer. Virtual Connections is open to campers that were registered for the 2020 season and is free of charge to families. Our trained Ranch Camp staff will be leading these programs. These staff are trained to work with children and specifically have been trained to safely lead programs in online spaces.

While we can’t be together in the way we had planned this summer, there will always be a way for us to share our love for one another. We are very much looking forward to connecting with our campers in this new way until we’re all back together under our bluest skies. Ranch Camp isn’t the cabins we sleep in or the walls we sign. It is the people who make us feel seen, loved, whole, and safe. This is what creates the Ranch Camp magic and we know it reaches so much farther than our 400 acres.


Noah Gallagher | JCC Ranch Camp Director
Ryan Bocchino | JCC Ranch Camp Associate Director
Carly Coons | JCC Ranch Camp Assistant Director

Notes from Noah: Through the Eyes of My Children

Shortly after I started as Director of Ranch Camp, I fell in love. I was totally committed. I was building a program and a camp with my own children in mind, knowing that they would soon be old enough to experience camp as campers. I was wrong, but I was wrong in the best possible way.

My oldest are 6 year-old twins, Daphne and Leo. My youngest, Tess, is nearly 3 years old. This will be her fourth summer at Ranch Camp. It will be the twins’ 5th summer at Ranch Camp, and their seventh summer affectionately known as “staff brats” (or, more lovingly, as “mascots”). As Daphne’s picture indicates (check out that beautiful picture at the bottom of this post), she might want to go right from staff kid to staff member!

The twins will be attending the Baktanna session in August. They are not exactly excited about the prospect of living in a bunk. They are, however, really excited to be back at camp. It is their favorite time of year and the thing they know to be certain about their summer.

As I took time to contemplate the lack of enthusiasm, I understand that my kids’ apprehension is not just the difference between a bed in our house at Ranch Camp and a bunk bed in a camp cabin. I can only imagine how apprehensive they are about the shift in perspective they are about to experience. It is as true for many of you as it is for my family: Ranch Camp is so much more than a summer program.

During any given week, outside of the summer season, the majority of the guests my family receives in our home, or visits, are connected to us through Ranch Camp. Those with whom we are most close are connected to us through Ranch Camp. The people I trust the most with my children are Ranch Camp folk. I have, recently, come to realize that we are not alone.  Over the past four years, Ranch Camp has become our community and our family.

At their most basic, summer camps are service and program providers. Ranch Camp is so much more than that. We are a community institution. We create and nurture community in Colorado and beyond. Though I have believed this for quite a while, I am, right now, for the first time, seeing it through the eyes of my children.

Daphne and Leo’s apprehension is not about sleeping in a bunk. It isn’t about being “away” from their parents. They are anxious about a compromise in their connection to their summer home. They cannot articulate this right now, but, by the time they are able to do so, their connections to staff members will be replaced with the kind of indelible connections one makes with peers during summers at camp. It will be different, it will be weird, and it will be awesome. I am so looking forward to continue watching my children grow up with your kids.

If we are doing it well, if we are doing it right, we (you, me, all of us!) are building more than a camp program. We are building a community. In doing so, we are showing our children what the world might look like. Thank you for being my partners; I cannot express just how excited I am to see our kids grow up together, and build a community that is an example to the entire world.



Noah Gallagher | JCC Ranch Camp Director

Ryan’s Ramblings: Lessons in Canned Goods

I spent most of my formative years at summer camp, with some pretty formative people, in some pretty formative places. Camp gave me the power to be creative, think independently, and defy my own limits. Many of my favorite stories are from camp. A particular favorite of mine involves a canoe and canned meat. If you were thinking that was all I was going to say about this story, I am sorry, there’s more.

Turn back the clock to 2002. Picture upstate New York, crank the humidity, in mid-July (crank it a little more), on a two-week whitewater canoeing and backpacking expedition in the Adirondacks. I’m with friends that I’ve spent most of my life with, my boat crew, Pete and Justin.

We spent our days canoeing, our nights on land, and we portaged every few days to jump rivers. Our staff entrusted us with a lot of responsibility, even as teenagers. We were responsible for making sure all of our equipment was in each night and stored properly. It was the early 2000s, so there wasn’t a lot of oversight. Our staff didn’t really check on the status of the gear and whether or not the appropriate steps were taken to secure it.

How were we supposed to secure the gear in the boat? Simple. There was a heavy-duty dry-bag with all our clothing in the bow and a hard case of foodstuffs secured in the back. In a moment of genius, one of us (you can guess who) struggled to fit the canned meats into the hard case of foodstuffs and decided to “secure” the cans by putting them in a plastic grocery bag and placing it underneath the case. Again, no one checked my work and we didn’t need to access this case of food until later in the trip.

After a week on and off the water, we transitioned to the backpacking portion of the trip. We began the tedious process of breaking down our boats and switching out gear. Pete was responsible for carrying the food while backpacking; he grabbed the food from the case and the grocery bag with the canned meat underneath, not thinking twice about the plastic bag being completely filled with water. He drained he water and tossed the bag in with the rest of the food.

We were nearing the last part of our hike and the food that Pete carried was the remaining food for the trip. Keep in mind, this is all the food the group has left. Pete unpacked his bag and reached in for the magical concoction now brewing in the case. He gently places the case on the ground. The buckle on the side of the container is opened. He lifts the lid. Cue: IMMEDIATE REGRET.

The meat canisters have exploded and their foul stench cascades out, and it is clear that the explosion has ruined just about everything in the case. Tortillas? Destroyed. Cereal? Soggy. It is a disaster.

Enter pure teenage rage. Our group loses their collective minds. Tears were shed. A fist was thrown. Words were screamed. Our counselors calm the group as the reality of the situation sets in. Our staff member, Josh, quietly asked how the cans got in this condition in the first place.

In fear of both being left out by the rest of the group and getting in trouble, I am quiet and don’t say I word. I think to myself, “Not me, I’m not getting caught in this right now.” In the end, everyone assumes it was an accident, even though our storage container was waterproof.

Fast-forward two days of solely eating pasta, we begin hiking back down to our bus. About halfway down, Pete casually brings up that the bag of canned meat was not in the food case, but rather underneath it. Knowing full well who was responsible for our canoe’s packout, I make darted eye contact with Josh who gives me the ‘I know’ eyes. At this point, I have started to fully freak out, wondering if I am going to have no friends after this trip.

When we get back down to the bus, the unthinkable happens. A camper on our trip comes up to me and apologizes for ignoring me the past two days. I hadn’t really noticed because we weren’t friends. After two other campers approach me to apologize in a similar fashion, it became obvious that people knew I mismanaged the packout. As it turns out, everyone saw me struggling with packing and did not stop to offer help because they were so focused on their own tasks. I didn’t say a word the whole ride home, which is incredibly rare now, and even more so then.

When we got back to camp, Josh pulled me aside to talk to me. I was prepared for a stern tongue-lashing, but what came was a lesson that has stayed with me to this day. Josh told me that you can always rely on your friends to notice the best and worst things you do. He said to never hide behind your mistakes and own them in front of your peers, and you’ll never feel ashamed in your life. What he also shared was that anyone could have offered to help. We were a team, and even though everyone had their own tasks to focus on, we were responsible to each other. Therefore, all were responsible when the canned meats were tucked behind the case

Ranch Camp’s supervision and standards are certainly ahead of where my camp was two decades ago. So is our intentional focus on responsibility, or acharayut, one of our core values. As a community, in camp or on a trip, we are responsible to and for each other, a lesson I learned thanks to a few cans of meat.

With that said, not everyone in the group knew that I was responsible, and this may be how they find out… Sorry!



Ryan Bocchino | JCC Ranch Camp Associate Director

Conversations with Carly: New Year, New Campers

The new year offers us an opportunity to pause. To recollect ourselves after school breaks, holiday dinners, crazy schedules, and many sugar comas. It gives us a moment to take a breath and set our intentions for the year. Sometimes this looks like resolutions, commitments to ourselves, or a reframing as we start a new year. We have a chance built into the year (two actually with the Jewish new year) to challenge ourselves. To set our sights on something unfamiliar or reacquaint ourselves with something that fuels us.

While many of campers return summer after summer, it is almost as if everyone who walks through our gates has the chance to start as new camper. Whether it is your child’s first time at overnight camp or they are starting their last summer as camper with us, every camper is starting their “new year” at camp. They are setting their intentions for the year. Perhaps it is the year they are going to finally try the rock wall or maybe they are challenging themselves to branch out and make new friends. Every camper has the opportunity to bring whatever they have worked on over the past year and shine as the truest version of themselves at camp.

Just as our campers set their intentions for the summer, our camp parents do it too. Every day you watch your kids grow, leap, fall, and get back up. You witness and celebrate their successes and work with them through their challenges. You know the small things about them – what phrases build them up and what actions trigger them. And then for anywhere between four and twenty-five days, you send them to us, where your vision is limited to the photos we post online and the phone calls you get from camp. So sending your campers to Ranch Camp is more than just choosing a camp where your kids will spend part of their summer. You are setting your intentions for your year, yourself, and your child. You are trusting that your child will have what they need to be successful within themselves and that what they need external support with they will find in the people that surround them at camp. And whether it is your child’s first summer or last summer as a camper, we know that this takes a lot of energy and courage from you.

At the end of this past summer, one of our first time camper parents wrote us to tell us about her children’s experience at camp, but even more so her own experience.

She writes, “[Both of my children] had varying levels of anxiety – friend making, bed wetting, sleeping away from us for the first time – and although I did everything I possibly could to support and prepare them, there were still a lot of jitters at the bus drop off. We were greeted by the amazing teen camp staff. My sons both had the same cabin counselors for their respective weeks at camp, and the moment I met these young men, I knew my boys had nothing to worry about. They approached my children with compassion and kindness that was a complete joy to watch. Each asked me thoughtful questions about each child’s strengths and weaknesses and any hesitations they had regarding camp. I know these are all things they learned in counselor training, but the genuine interest in my family and such thoughtful communication cannot be learned in a crash course on how to run a cabin. I drove away with tears in my eyes and a new faith in humanity.”

In less than six months, we will be back in our small corner of the Black Forest, preparing for the amazing children that you will share with us this summer. Looking towards this, the Ranch Camp team has set our intentions for 2020. We are working to get to know your children before they come to camp, to learn about how their school year has affected and changed them. We are set on helping them grow as individuals; helping them to find strength they didn’t know they had. And we are excited to connect them to the 2020 Ranch Camp family. To help them find a place where they can give and receive what they need.

We thank you for having the courage it takes to share the most important part of your lives with us. We know that you will prepare your children to the best of your ability for camp this summer. And even with preparation there will still be jitters. So before we reach the summer, please feel free to call or email us so that we can get to know more about your family and your camper. Whether this is a new experience or your camper is returning to a place and community that fuels them, we would love to connect and learn more about your child in this new year.



Carly Coons | JCC Ranch Camp Assistant Director

Phone: 303.316.6384

Notes from Noah: Our Community

2020 will be a big summer for Ranch Camp. For three nights this summer, my soon-to-be 6-year old twins will sleep in a cabin as campers. They will share that space with kids that grew up with them at the Early Learning School at JCC Denver and at Camp Shai. I cannot begin to express the joy I experience when people I know from the ELS and Camp Shai stop to tell me that they signed their kid up for Ranch Camp.

This year was a fantastic year for Ranch Camp. We received and implemented a two-million dollar gift from the Sturm family. Our survey results were proof positive that Ranch Camp stands among the very best Jewish camps in North America. Ranch Camp was open and utilized for more days outside of the camp season than any year on record. Above all, our community connected with each other in new ways, welcoming new and returning members, and creating a warm and safe space.

One of the most exciting major infrastructure improvements, made possible by the Sturm family gift, are two new communal bathrooms. These new bathrooms in each village offer an incredible upgrade to our current facilities, but even more so, they allow us to allocate housing to campers by age, rather than gender. While campers will still be in housed in cabins by their gender identification, they will now be surrounded by peers at the same development stage as them, allowing for more intential relationship building and stronger unit identity development.

We were ecstatic about the results from the Summer 2019 satisfaction survey which collects data on Jewish camps nationwide. Our results demonstrated continued improvement in almost every metric. It’s through our partnership with you and our community that we are able to create a successful space for every camper to feel at home. Some of our highlights were that campers really enjoyed the food, nearly all of you recommend your friends send their kids to Ranch Camp, and campers got to try every activity we wanted them to experience.

In addition to our amazing summer camp program, Ranch Camp is becoming a destination retreat spot for synagogues, youth groups, and family life cycle events. Our 2020 season is nearly booked, and Bar/Bat Mitzvah weekends are prioritized for 2021. We are investing resources in year-round campus accessibility, which is a benefit to our retreat and summer camp programs.

With that we’re closing out not only a year, but also a decade. A decade where new campers, staff, and community members have joined us. Where campers have become staff, and alumni have become camp parents. We redefined what it meant for us to be an inclusive community, working to make sure that everyone who walks through our gates knows that they are safe and a member of the Ranch Camp family. We worked to reinvest in our infrastructure, creating a beautiful partnership with the Sturm family and other incredible donors. This past year we reached new heights. This past decade we opened our gates and grew our community. Over the last 67 years we’ve built upon a rich history and path laid down by those before us and continue to aspire to the greatness that Ranch Camp can be as we look towards the next year, decade, and beyond.

I am excited to have my kids at Ranch Camp this summer and to join a community of which I am proud. Thank you for all of your support to help us continue to become the best we can be and for making us a community that prioritizes the health, safety, and wellbeing of everyone who walks through our gates. We are so grateful for our community.


Noah Gallagher | JCC Ranch Camp Director

Ryan’s Ramblings: A La Sainte Terre

When I was asked to write a blog post for November, I was both excited and nervous – I am not by any means a writer and much prefer my “outdoor desk,” where I get to see the sun, and enjoy the sounds and smells of the Colorado wilderness. The desk where I get to watch campers grow as individuals and groups of teens transition into a family that will continue to defy their limits, together, over the years to come. So, I will attempt to bring my outdoor desk to this blog post.

As a child, I was fortunate enough to grow up participating in adventure and travel camps. It is where I learned to love the outdoors, appreciate my peers, and pause to take in the little moments. I am still close friends with my guides from these experiences, who are still role models to this day. Sadly, my outdoors experience did not come with a camp-based connection to Judaism. After I completed my Bar Mitzvah, I severed my relationship with my synagogue and thus with Judaism. I remained disconnected to my Jewish roots until I began my journey at Ranch Camp. The awe-inspiring beauty of our camp and this state, combined with the inclusive and truly unique Jewish experience found at camp, helped ignite a flame that encourages me to pass that same love for nature and neighbor along to all who walk through our gates. We have built a beautiful Jewish camp family with our campers, staff, and administrative team. This combination of humans creates a safe Jewish space where youth can connect to what it truly means to be human, be vulnerable, and be a family. It is my dream and goal that our impact as camp staff will encourage our current campers to do the same for others as their story with Ranch Camp continues to turn its own pages.

I was recently speaking with Courtney Jacobson, Director of Camp Shai, about her experience as a camper and staff in the Ranch Camp Tiyulim (trips) program. Something she said really stuck out to me about the value of these programs. She described that what they offer is a transcendent experience beyond what is possible within the realm of the physical plant of camp; ‘Sometimes you need to disconnect to reconnect to connecting.’

It hit me, in a different way, on so many levels. These tiyulim are more than disconnecting from traditional resources like running water, electricity, and our modern resources, like cell phones and internet. It is about the power of the soul of a group of people who are coming together in nature. Certainly a thematic element in historical and modern Judaism, as well as a core element of all Ranch Camp’s tiyulim. It made me reflect on my experiences at backpacking camps on the east coast, recalling my own challenges connecting to peers in school, connecting to Judaism, connecting to nature. I am in awe of what we are able to forge out in the wilderness with just a group of teens, their guides, and their tents. The power that each of these groups has to do something truly remarkable is truly remarkable.

Over the past few years, our team has spent a lot of time observing and listening to both campers and their parents regarding their experiences with Ranch Camp’s Tiyulim programs. We are continuing to do so as we move into a new decade of camping. The most consistent and common piece of feedback has been food on tiyulim. We hear you and we are continuing to make improvements to tiyulim meals, especially during the backpacking portions.

Our ‘common denominator’ practice will continue to stand strong in 2020: If there is a camper with anaphylactic food allergies, that food does not come on the trip. While we were able to provide allergen safe food in 2019, we did miss the ball with providing quality alternatives to removed products. We will focus on ensuring that each tiyul has enough proteins such as canned chicken or tuna. While we will continue to use dehydrated products for the backpacking portions of the trip, we will do a fresh produce food drop for our longer trips, T.A.S.C. and Teen Village,  when they shift from to car camping.

We are also adjusting food organization and preparation on each tiyul. Each tiyul group will be broken up into smaller meal groups. Those groups will partner with one of their counselors to measure out, package, carry, prepare, and eat their meals both prior to their departure and during their time out of camp. Each of these groups will manage their cookware and even have their own cookbook to reference. This will encourage new levels of responsibility, creating new connections and opportunities for campers, ones that make not have been present in years past.

While food is the cornerstone of our change for Summer 2020, we are dedicated to helping each tiyul continue to evolve and improve. It is important that each tiyul is providing an appropriately progressive yet challenging experience. We are cognizant of choosing trails and forest areas that are not overused as to avoid detrimental environmental impacts across our state. Additionally, beginning Summer 2020, all of our guides will be taking a Mental Health First Aid Training to ensure our staff are trained equally for physical and mental health while out of camp.

Whether Tiyulim starts this summer or is a few years down for your family, we hope that the threads that tie our Tiyulim programs into our greater camp community resonates with you. John Muir, the “Father of National Parks,” has a unique view on hiking that speaks to me, to our camp community, and to the impactful connections made betwixt campers and all they interact with throughout their journey in the Tiyulim program:

“Hiking – I don’t like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter to the mountains – not hike! Do you know the origins of that word – ‘Saunter?’ It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the middles ages, people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land. When people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, the travelers would reply ‘A la sainte terre,’ ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers, or saunterers. Now, these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.”


Ryan Bocchino | JCC Ranch Camp Associate Director


Summer 2020 Tiyulim Itineraries

I am thrilled to share the itineraries. Please be in touch if you have any questions. 303-316-6330 or

Pack ‘n Ride

Rock ‘n Ride


Teen Village

Conversations with Carly: Label Your Socks

There are certain experiences you don’t forget from childhood- experiences that leave a particular impression on you, whether it’s because it was something so new or so ingrained, it happened so quickly or took so long. One such experience (that I am certain took months to complete when I think back on it) was labeling my clothes for Ranch Camp each summer. I remember staying up to help my mom iron my name onto every single sock I owned into the wee hours of the morning before the first day of camp. Those little Gold Toe socks were so important. I remember the whirlwind that was meeting my counselors at the J on the first day and getting on the bus in the blink of an eye. I remember how much extra time it felt like I had in the morning when I was in the “freebie” spot on the chore chart once a week. I remember searching through my bag, too big for 19 days of camp, for the awesome blue and white dress with a palm tree on it that I had picked out special for Shabbat.

What I remember most though was this feeling of awe on my first Friday night. We were singing tunes and reciting prayers that I knew from home… at camp Shabbat services! How could everyone at camp, all the way in Elbert, Colorado, possibly know the same prayers and tunes that I knew? Even more so, why did it feel so much more magical to be singing surrounded by people I had only just met? I mean, the horses running behind the Pavilions as we prayed certainly didn’t hurt the ambiance, but it was more than the beauty of the Black Forest. My first Ranch Camp Shabbat service in July of 2001 was one of the first times I really felt connected to something bigger than myself, which we can agree is no small feat for a sixth grader. It was my “ah-ha” moment.

Nearly two decades later, I still actively seek out and find myself in communities that energize me in the same way. Towards the end of this most recent summer I posted a photo at camp on Instagram with the hashtag #onemoreweek. My friend from camp, David, immediately commented, “You can’t say it’s only ‘one more week’ when we all know you haven’t really left Ranch Camp in the last, like, 17 years.” And David isn’t wrong. I found a space at camp that has excited, energized, and invigorated me. It makes me question what Judaism means to me, what it means to be a citizen of this world, and how to be the best version of myself. And I’m not looking to leave a community like this any time soon.

Now I’m on the other end of this experience in many ways, working to create opportunities for our campers to have their “ah-ha” moments. Noah, Ryan, and I often find ourselves in late night deep conversations about camp all year long. How do we give our campers the opportunity to live the middot, or values, that we hold as a community? How do we help them learn about Judaism in a way that touches their soul? Most of all, how do we help them hold on to the socks that their parents have meticulously labeled? That last one is a question for the ages.

This past summer we tapped into something new. Our campers walked away feeling a stronger appreciation for the celebration of Shabbat, the pause at the end of our non-stop week. They felt like they were giving back to the community in a meaningful way, whether it was in camp or on a trip, truly embodying the value of tikkun olam, changing the world. They felt like they were learning about and participating in Jewish rituals at camp to new levels. But most of all, and nearest and dearest to my heart, our campers left camp feeling like they were a part of something bigger, something greater than themselves.

Our summer survey results helped us understand that how we incorporated Judaism and education this summer resonated with our campers. We saw a sizable jump in “spiritual, cultural, and religious life” at camp. These results have helped us identify the path that we will continue along next summer: Offering campers different opportunities to lead rituals and services and incorporating Judaism and Jewish values into all areas of camp whether it’s Teva Farm, Ropes Course, or Rikkud (Israeli dance). Hopefully what they experience and learn will continue to translate back to life at home. We hope that each camper, staff, and guest who passes through the Ranch Camp gates will look at the world with more awe. They will see their connection to the greater world, leaving with some moment that made them say “ah-ha!” Whether it’s realizing that they know the same tunes at services or that there is a community of people with their names also ironed on to every sock they own, they are a part of something bigger than themselves. I am confident that there was an 11-year-old at camp with us this summer that will also find themselves still at camp twenty years from now.

And in case any of you were wondering, I still have my hiking socks from Teen Village, and they still have my name ironed on the bottom of them.



Carly Coons | JCC Ranch Camp Assistant Director

Notes from Noah: A New Year

Dear Ranch Camp Community,

For the year-round Ranch Camp team, Rosh Hashana is the time when we begin to move from reflecting on the summer that past and turn our eyes to the one that is coming next. We set goals for the next season. We build budgets to support those goals. It is very much our New Year.

With active recruitment for next summer slow until the Jewish High Holidays are over, we have a moment to ask the big question: How can we make everyone feel included, seen, and safe in our Ranch Camp community?

I want to share with you how our recently completed facility updates, as well as those planned for the near future, answer this question.

New bathrooms in the North and South villages, including a non-gendered bathroom and shower, allow us to house campers by their age groups. Our age groups (Chalutzim, Metapsim, and Toshavim) should be communities within our larger camp community. This will be so much easier for campers when they live on the same side of camp. We are also better-equipped to accommodate gender nonconforming members of our community.

A new flagpole and seating in the Commons establishes a central gathering point, where we can begin and end our sessions and our days as a community, in a circle, where we can see one another’s faces. We also removed many of the overhead electric lines, greatly improving the safety and beauty of our camp.

In the coming months, we will share news of improvements to our infrastructure. The goal of these projects is to address the safety of our roads, the integrity of our plumbing systems, and the reliability of our electric system.

As we continue to plan for Summer 2020, and we welcome the New Year, we will be looking at everything we do through the lens of the question: “Does this help us make every member of our community feel included, seen, and safe?”


Shana Tova!


Noah Gallagher | JCC Ranch Camp Director

At the Corral

There are a plethora of activities to try every day here at camp. From morning activities to chugim in the afternoon, evening programs to unit activities, each hour offers new opportunities and experiences. But many campers arrive on site with a specific destination in mind – the corral. It’s no surprise that horseback riding is one of the most anticipated activities of camp. With the horses etched into the camp sign and the saddles adorning the front gate, it’s made obvious from the beginning that the horse programs are an integral part of JCC Ranch Camp.

Each camper’s relationship with the corral begins on the first day of the session. With their cabins, everyone takes a trip to the “boot barn,” trying on the riding boots that are offered to those who do not possess their own pair. Once everyone’s comfortable with the boots they’ll be wearing, they learn about what they’ll get to do once they come for activities, maybe even getting the chance to pet a horse or two. As cabins leave for the next station, daydreams of trail rides float in their minds’ eye, excitement for the activity nearly tangible in the air.

This excitement has not yet abated by the time campers have the chance participate in the corral activity. The hour starts out with campers meeting their horses. Though many of these docile and well-trained creatures are new to camp this year, there are several who have come to call Ranch Camp a home in much the same way as the community’s human members – Seuss, Rojo, and Bones are some favorites, though every horse is well loved and cared for. The first time riding is usually spent in one of the arenas, learning the ropes of horse riding – spacing, steering, and commands are all quickly picked up.

The second (and sometimes even third) trip to the corral holds even more in store. Now that they’ve had some more basic experience, the campers are ready for a trail ride! A journey into the Outer 400 is always a peaceful and beautiful adventure, and some of the trails that the horses follow are also used for activities like hiking and mountain biking. But even if a camper has traveled a specific path before, going through the woods on a horse is an entirely new experience. A trail ride is the perfect way to connect with nature – there’s less talking in these activities, and quiet self-reflection is only natural in these moments, surrounded by trees on either side, sunlight filtering through the leaves and pine needles above, the setting punctuated only by the rhythmic thud of hooves on dirt.

At times like these, it’s obvious how important the corral is to camp, how integral these activities are in fostering the community and camaraderie that everyone leaves with. When given the opportunity to interact with these animals, the horses own calmness and quiet content spreads to those around them. The hard work that both campers and staff alike puts into their time at the corral comes back to reward them, building a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment, leaving everyone who comes through the corral with the knowledge that they have contributed a job well done.

When the Sun Goes Down

The days at Ranch Camp start bright and early, the camp gathering for the morning circle at 7:45, and the hours spent under the bright Colorado sky are always filled with activity and energy. Most things at camp happen while the sun is high in the sky, but this is an overnight camp, and the fun doesn’t stop when the sun hits the horizon. The evening programs, always camp favorites, offer one more burst of excitement before bedtime, but on special nights, post-evening programs draw the end of the day on a bit further for a special treat.

Unlike evening programs, in which everyone at camp participates, the post-evening programs are generally divided by unit. Each unit – Chalutzim, Metapsim, and Toshavim – consists of three or four cabins, and these groups of campers have the opportunity to come together to solidify and strengthen their own communities during these times. This inter-cabin bonding begins with the first post-evening program (affectionately known as PEPs) of the session, a unit initiation. Generally taking place after opening campfire, the different units split off to their own campfires or unit areas to get to know the campers their age, returning campers welcoming the new. Sharing s’mores and campfire stories is the perfect end to the evening.

Other PEPs are a bit more energetic, adding some more thrill once campers are more comfortably settled in. Older campers might venture into the Outer 400 for a night hike or a game of camouflage. Others might put their mind to the test in an “escape room” in the Mo or a puzzle set out for them by a sibling cabin (raids being some of the most popular post-evening programs of all). Some evenings might find dance parties or movie nights, an extra special treat. For the younger kids, or just those who want something more relaxing before bed, storytelling with milk and cookies hits the spot. The rarity of these kinds of activities is part of what makes them so exciting – rest is one of the key parts of success at camp, so the opportunity to stay up past bedtime is always an adventure.

The other night, the Chaltuzim unit participated in a post-evening program, what ended up being one of the most meaningful nights of the session so far. The first group of Mini campers, the youngest cabins that only stay at camp for a week, were leaving the next morning, and the rest of the unit helped them make the night an extra special one. First, each Mini made a “Ranch Camp in a Jar” to take home with them, collecting leaves, flowers, and small rocks to create their own representation of camp – no matter where the next steps of their journey will take them, they will always have a little bit of Ranch Camp to call their own. Meanwhile, the unit’s older campers prepared a surprise at the pool. When the Minis arrived, they found wish boats prepared for them. As campers set the little wooden boats, each holding a tea candle, in the water of the pool, they made a wish that was released as the candles blew out. Standing around the pool as one community, illuminated by the light of the candles below, each and every person felt that those around them had, in the last week, become family.

These post-evening programs, like many other areas of camp, are what help to make this community such a special place. The things that happen when the sun goes down are obviously unique experiences that could not be had other places, bringing meaning to the words “sleepaway camp.” But more importantly, these are the times when campers are most able to connect with each other, the atmosphere created by these programs the natural setting for friendships to bloom. With every post-evening program, the bonds of the community grow ever stronger, building up the camaraderie that will still connect every member of camp long after the session itself is over.