A Message from the JCC Ranch Camp in Support of our Israeli Community

Dear Ranch Camp Families,

As I digested the news and continue to learn more about the events and violence of this past weekend, I’ve felt my heart ache for our friends and families in Israel. There are no words big enough to comfort each other or provide solace for our emotions. Our Israeli staff, campers, and families, both past, present, and future, have left an indelible impact on our community’s relationship with the people and land of Israel.

Like so many other Ranch Campers, my connection to Israel was born from living with and learning from an Israeli staff member who worked with my cabin during my first summer at camp. The Israeli staff helped create a portal of understanding for me into what it means to be Jewish in the United States, and what it means to be Jewish in Israel and call Israel home. The Ranch Camp experience would not be the same without our Israeli counterparts.

The words of the song that we sing to close all our campfires are closer to me, now more than ever. It’s a song that’s been sung at Ranch Camp for as long as anyone can remember, and it illuminates the core of everything we do:

Olam chesed yibaneh

I will build this world from love

And you must build this world from love

And if we build this world from love

Then G-d will build this world from love

Olam chesed yibaneh

Every summer, we strive to create a community built on a foundation of love. It is our hope that everyone who comes through our gates – be they campers or staff – leaves feeling connected and loved for who they are. This song emulates what we hope to teach our campers and staff: what it means to practice chesed (kindness) toward one another and really live our values.

We practice a tradition on the last day of the camp session where everyone picks up a small rock or rubs a pinch of dirt into their clothes. This signifies the idea that wherever they go, a piece of Ranch Camp will now always be with them and that the community they built at camp is always with them. My hope is that our Ranch Camp community living in Israel finds strength in that small piece of camp – and that they know we are thinking of them and standing in solidarity alongside them. My hope for our broader Ranch Camp community is that everyone knows they are not alone.

In the coming days, as registration for Summer 2024 opens, we have already begun the first steps of creating our Ranch Camp community for 2024. And, like all other summers, we are putting together the elements that spark the Ranch Camp magic that lends to a tight-knit, warm, and connected community. Our team is here and available to listen and process. Lastly, for our returning campers and families, we know how much the Israeli staff have meant to you and want to give you a channel to send your love and support to them. Please use this online message board to share your messages with our Israeli staff.

With love,
Katelyn Skeen
Interim Director | JCC Ranch Camp

Mini but Mighty

Camp is in my blood. Like many east-coast Jewish kids, my mom attended summer camp throughout her entire childhood. She started the first year she was old enough for the camp to take her, and she continued as a staff member until she finally had to enter the adult world. Comparing camp stories with her, I’ve found that we’ve had a lot of experiences in common. The camaraderie between staff and cabin-mates, the closer connection to Judaism and nature, and the opportunities for growth in confidence and ability remain cornerstones of a Jewish summer camp experience. But, given the several decades of separation between my experience and my mom’s, there are many differences, too.

For one thing, camp is safer now, with much more supervision – my mom once wandered all the way to a different property and got in trouble when she showed up an hour late to dinner with a stranger’s horse in tow. And, of course, we go to camp for a much shorter length of time. When my mom was six years old, she went to camp for the first time and stayed for six weeks. Here at Ranch Camp, minis of the same age (or even older) stay for only one. 

When I meet parents on drop off day, many of them share similar stories, telling me about how long they went to camp when they were younger than their own children. To some, a week at Ranch Camp doesn’t sound like nearly enough. If kids could handle six weeks away from home back then, why can’t they do it now? How could a camper have the life-changing experience of camp in just seven days? What’s the point?

In my potentially slightly-biased opinion as the Chalutzim unit head, I think there is a very important point in sending kids to a mini session at Ranch Camp. A mini session is like an appetizer before a full meal. For kids who are nervous about being away from home for the first time, being here for just one week whets their appetite for more without overwhelming them on the first go. 

They get to experience some of the touchstone programs of camp, like Maccabiah, Gold Rush, and campfire. They still get to bond with the other Chalutzim campers during unit programs like Ranch Camp Jeopardy or Wishboats. And they have enough time to get used to the day-to-day schedule of camp, so that when they come back next year they know which songs we sing at degel and which shower stall has the best water pressure. Full-session Chalutzim campers who attended a mini session the summer before are some of the most successful campers to come through the front gates. Armed with the knowledge and confidence that the mini session has given them, they are much more easily able to adjust to the rhythm of camp, and to help their cabinmates do the same. 

Out in the real world, adults attend orientations all the time. At a new job, a college tour, or a new house, people take the time to make themselves comfortable before settling in. For campers, that’s exactly what a mini session is for – it’s a week of orientation, hand in hand with discovery, adventure, and a rousing welcome into the Ranch Camp community.

Yesterday a child came out to WONDER

Shabbat Shalom Ranch Camp!

What a wonderful week it has been. We’ve had an absolute blast in our first full week of Session 3. I cannot believe that we are looking down the horizon of the last week of camp. This has been an absolutely amazing session so far and it’s crazy that it is so close to the end.

This week we had quite the laundry list of exciting activities. Our TASCers began their 10 day trip on Monday, and are having quite the adventure up north despite, or in spite of, some pretty consistent rain every day. Not to mention our Toshavim 8th grade boys took their four day to Staunton State Park and also had such a great time, also, in spite of the rain and some sniffles on the trail.

Back at camp, it’s been a weather weird week. We got missed by the biggest storm of the summer, we had an awesome time at Gold Rush on Wednesday, we had an completely unhinged afternoon at Mayhem Day, where I was dunked in the dunk tank by basically every Toshavim camper, over, and over, and over again. It was a riot of a day only marred by the fact that it was the first day below 80 degrees Fahrenheit (it was about 60) for the first time all summer.

We had a fantastic Shabbat together with all our campers, indoors, as it was once again storming out on Friday night. The Mo was full of soul, signature, spirit and song. Once the storm cleared out, we danced outside under what was the best night sky of the summer – you’ll see some of the beauty in some of our pictures.

I truly cannot believe we are looking down the chute to the last seven days of main camp for 2022. It was been a summer for the record books, outside of a pool that deserves to be a skate park, but a summer for the record books nonetheless. I hope this session and the sessions before it have helped your campers be the best possible versions of themselves and given them a confidence in their ability to make the world a better place through their own actions.

Yasher Session 3!

Shabbat Shalom Ranch Camp Families!

What an amazing first week kicking off Session 3. It is truly a packed house this session! We’ve got over 160 campers on site and almost every bed at camp is full – it’s a really awesome send off to what has been a phenomenal summer.

The first week of the session is always my favorite – seeing friends reconnect and faces light up throughout the first few days is a real treat and never stops putting a smile on my face. It’s awesome to see so many campers returning this session for 2021 and beyond, really bringing a full (and very loud) community for our last camp session of the summer!

Truly appreciate everyone’s patience at drop off. I know check-in took a little longer than expected for some of ya’ll, and I can’t thank everyone enough for being so patient coming in for arrival.

It couldn’t be the first week of camp without some great activities. We’ve spent the first few days in cabin cohorts, and when we get through our final round of COVID testing, we’ll break out into activity groups and get camp fired up proper on Sunday morning. That being said, we had an awesome first few days of program, riding horses and bikes, screaming down the zip line, and jammin’ it up with some ultimate frisbee on the sports field. We had an AMAZING all camp capture the flag to close out our first few days of evening programs, congrats to the red team (not playing favorites at all) on their absolutely dominating victory.

Our first Shabbat today was so full of people, and full of soul. The community that comes during Session 3 is a special one – very invested into camp and its myriad of unique traditions – and whether its chanting in the Chad, or morning Degel, or bumping tunes during Shabbat services, this crew really brought the energy to our first Shabbat weekend and I can’t WAIT to see where it goes from here.

So excited for what this coming week will bring. Enjoy the photos, stories, and journeys your campers take as we rock into the rest of Session 3!

Go Sports, Go!

JCC Ranch Camp’s Sports Track allows our sports loving campers to fully embrace their passions through various different athletic activities. Not only do campers get to experience new forms of athleticism, they also learn new skills and improve their coordination. Together and with a fun spirit, the sports track campers play all kinds of games. These games consist of capture the flag,  basketball, and even water kickball! Some of our more exciting sports include lacrosse, soccer, ultimate frisbee and many more! Ranch Camp’s sports staff really enjoy the Sports Track because of its flexibility in scheduling and because they feel like they have more fun than all the other tracks! Kids gain the unique experience to also learn from staff from all over the world during the sports track. They are able to learn different games from many different cultures and can take this knowledge back home with them! In addition to learning various games, kids are able to learn many valuable traits. These traits include team work, good sportsmanship, communication, and Ruach (Hebrew for “Spirit”). These are not skills specific just to games, but are applicable and beneficial to their daily lives. With a variety of games, absorbing knowledge of varying cultures and perspectives, plus gaining valuable life skills-what more could a sports loving camper want from a program?

We Are One

Oh man, what a session. What a week! What an amazing way to kick off 2022.

As we wind down into our second soul-filling Shabbat of 2022, I couldn’t be more thrilled with the start to what has already been an amazing summer. We’ve had an action-packed Session 1 and the second week launched it truly into orbit. From seeing the sales pitches made during our camper ‘Shark Tank’ to the amazing acts including a live-singing of ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ during Kaleidoscope (our talent show) as well as a camp dog doing wild tricks on stage, it’s been a wild week of seeing campers step outside their comfort zones and show us the best they have to offer as their individual selves.

On top of all of that, we also broke the week up with some pretty intense competition! This past Thursday was the first of our three camper Maccabiahs for 2022, with an over-the-top afternoon where the green team ultimately took the cake (quite literally, for some of the challenges) at the end of the day. It was an awesome day culminated by the Mac-o-Peel, thecross-campus relay race that starts at the front gate and finishes all the way at Niven Field.

Weeks like this are a special time at camp. We break up and have some pretty serious competitive events, which, depending on your camper, may sometimes be taken a little too seriously! We struggle, we yell, we scream, all in the name of our team winning and, most importantly, having as much fun packed into a single day as we can. It’s a nice reminder at the end of the day, when we celebrate with a color powder party, that our teams, at the end of the day, don’t really matter too much. The wrap up of this day serves as an important reminder that we are one family, no matter who we are, what we look like, how we identify or where we come from.

Despite our early challenges in the session and taking an impromptu evacuation field trip to the Elbert County fairgrounds, it’s been so great having a ‘normal’ first session of 2022 so far.  It was great hearing our 8th grades reflect on their four-day, and amazing to hear from all our campers on some of their reflections on what they’ve enjoyed most about camp during this week’s Shabbat service. I can’t wait for the stories to be shared with you.

Shabbat Shalom Ranch Camp. We’ll see you Sunday morning!

The First Shabbat

It’s on! What an amazing first week we’ve had to kick off 2022. From new sports like ultimate frisbee, to new friends being made, (Cabin 14 leading the way here) it has been a week of absolute awesomeness that has fired up our first week with campers.

Camp getting ‘fired up’ was an interesting choice of words, I guess, given the circumstances of the week. It’s still hard to grasp that we were evacuating camp on day three of the session, but we were able to do so safely, successfully, and get everyone off camp in under twenty minutes. I couldn’t even begin to imagine having to order the evacuation of both campers and horses and pray we will never have to again. However, it was also so reassuring to know that this is a team and a place that can respond to an emergency when the need arises. A big Shabbat thank you to our Elbert County First Responders, as well as the wildland fire crew who got the fire near us under control in just a few hours. I deeply appreciate the community’s patience with our first-time camper calls, being out of the property for most of Wednesday has really set us back a bit.

Despite the stress of Wednesday afternoon, it has been absolutely amazing getting back to what feels relatively normal, and a lot more like camp than how we began summer 2021. Seeing campers out and about with their peers and just enjoying being at camp has been a true blessing and truly sets camp apart as a space where campers can feel safe and able to just enjoy being themselves in the company of friends. 

As the story of the Torah wraps our 40 years in the desert, it’s been great to wrap our first week of camp after three weeks of staff training. Being able to have this community together, after years of waiting for a ‘normal’ week of camp, has really been one for the record books. From watching our Mini Campers do the ropes course and get up in the air ten times their own height, to seeing our EQers get their horses for the first time today, it’s been challenging, but a soul-filling few days. It’s been great to see staff leading chugim (electives) again, bringing their own passions to camp to share with kids and build an even better experience for campers. 

I’m excited about our first Shabbat dinner together and, a sentiment I’m sure I share with a majority of our campers and staff, cannot wait to see what the next week brings.

Shabbat Shalom Ranch Camp! See you in Week 2 of Session 1.