By Cindy Mindell
Connecticut’s only Jewish overnight summer camp marks its 73rd season this year. With expanded enrollment — 68 more applicants than last year – Camp Laurelwood is preparing to welcome the new crop of campers.
In addition to remodeling and expanding all cabins to accommodate the applicant waiting list, the camp has added new elements to the ropes course and enhanced the site’s landscaping. A new, air-conditioned library room of donated books will open this summer for campers who choose to read during the daily rest hour. A new photography course will be offered this year, led by a photo student whose work is currently being shown in an Orange, Conn. Gallery. A dozen Israeli counselors will join the staff this year, working in the ropes course and the arts and crafts program. Two of the instructors, returning for their eighth summer, are a husband-and-wife team who run a pottery studio in Israel.
In lieu of traditional advertising venues, Laurelwood leadership decided to launch an extensive word-of-mouth campaign, working with existing camp families throughout Connecticut and the New York Metro. The majority of new campers are referrals, and retention of past years’ campers is high, says executive director Ruth Ann Ornstein, MSW. “We’ve been listening to parents and taking their suggestions,” she says.
Over the past four years, Laurelwood has raised $4 million in grants and donations, all put back into the camp’s facilities. The camp also raised more money this year to meet the increasing number of scholarship requests. All first-time campers are eligible for a One Happy Camper $1,000 grant; second-year campers receive $500 off tuition. There are several camping incentives available, offered by area synagogues and by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. “We want Jewish camping to be available to all,” Ornstein says. “We don’t want to turn anyone away because of financial need.”