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Camp Laurelwood makes plans for summer 2020

(JTA) – Camp Laurelwood in Madison is among dozens of Jewish overnight camps nationwide selected to receive a matching grant from The Harold Grinspoon Foundation, which has committed up to $10 million to be divided among eligible camps from a myriad of Jewish movements. The camps will each receive $1 for every $2 they raise from other donors.

The All Together Now matching grant program is available to camps that participate in the foundation’s Jcamp180 initiative.

“The timing of the COVID-19 pandemic is hitting camps especially hard,” foundation founder Harold Grinspoon said in a statement earlier this spring, when it was still unclear as to whether overnight camps would be allowed to open. “We don’t yet know the full extent of the resources the camps will need to weather this storm, but we know they need extra cash flow now and their needs will be significant.”

“We are incredibly grateful for the generosity of Harold Grinspoon and for the efforts and support of everyone at the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. The support that JCamp180 provides to the field of Jewish camping is beyond compare, and we are lucky to be one of their camping partners. The investment from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation was first among the major Jewish funders, and that kind of leadership creates a culture of abundance that is so needed in this moment of scarcity,” Camp Laurelwood’s director, Rabbi James Greene, told the Ledger.

According to Greene, Laurelwood, Connecticut’s only Jewish overnight camp, is eligible to receive up to $80,000 in matching-grant funds, which means the camp would have to raise $160,000 from donors in the community in order to access the maximum grant money offered. An additional dollar-for-dollar tuition match is available for camp families for tuition dollars that are converted to donations.

“We have until the end of the calendar year to raise the funds for the match, but obviously we are working to raise that money more rapidly because of the immediate impact of COVID-19 on camp,” says Greene, who is heading into his first summer as Laurelwood’s director. 

CT closes overnight camps

The grant is especially needed now that Connecticut has announced that the state’s residential camps, such as Laurelwood, will not open this summer. 

“It is really unfortunate and sad, but we are trying to think about how to manage through this moment,” says Greene. “We are not alone. We have a community of other camps that are experiencing the same challenge. And, we have our own Connecticut Jewish community which has pulled together and is really doing incredible work.”

While a traditional overnight camp experience shelved for this season, Greene and his staff are busy working on several contingency plans for how summer at Camp Laurelwood might look this year. 

“Our most important obligation is to be here to support our campers, their families, and the greater Jewish community. In whatever reality emerges, we intend to fulfill that mission,” he says.

Toward that end, says Greene, “we are exploring a mix of virtual and in-person pro-grams for this summer. In-person, we will be putting together a series of family camp experiences. Families will come to camp for five days, stay in our cabins, have their own bathroom and shower, and have a wonderful week of summer! We will have a lifeguard for our pool and lake, most meals for that time period, and of course Shabbat programs. All of that will happen with an eye toward keeping social distance,” says Greene. 

“We are still working out details of dates and pricing, but our goal is simply to cover our cost and give families access to some much needed outdoor space.

“For our virtual programs, our plan is to gather the community three times each week. Once for either Shabbat or Havdalah, and then twice a week for other Camp programs. That will include virtual experiences for Maccabiah, song sessions, art programs, and more. A calendar will be available on the Camp website shortly,” he adds.

Still, not having an overnight camp comes at a cost – a hefty cost at that.

“As a residential camp program, a large portion of our operating costs are fixed throughout the year, even though our revenue happens almost entirely during the summer,” Greene points out. “We have offered all our families a full refund, and are also asking the community to support us to ensure we are able to come back strong and reopen in 2021. We are working hard to be present for the community in the midst of this crisis.”

An “interesting” beginning

For Greene, the transition into his new role as Camp Laurelwood director has been, well, interesting. Still, he remains excited and optimistic.

“I believe in the power and impact of Jewish camping, so this is where my heart is and where I want to be in this moment,” says Greene, who lives on a small homestead in Stratford, where he raises chickens and turkey with his partner, Jen. “The identity formation and impact that camp nurtures is what motivated me to become a rabbi and a Jewish communal professional, and it is what continues to nurture my own family in our Jewish journey.  And, camp is lucky to have an incredible staff team and lay leadership working hard to bring camp to life.

As for the pandemic which has upended his plans for his first summer at Camp Laurelwood, Greene remains philosophical.

“King Solomon famously asked a jeweler to create a piece of jewelry with words of eternal truth on it. The artist gave him a ring with the words ‘gam zeh ya’avor’ – this too shall pass, written on it,” he explains. “King Solomon would look at it in moments of joy and recognize that the joy would eventually dissipate; and he would look at it in moments of struggle and remember that things would get better. This moment will also pass. We will get through this, and we will be stronger as a community if we do it all together. I believe that is the message of the Grinspoon Foundation’s All Together Now campaign.” 

For more information on Camp Laurelwood’s matching grant campaign and/or the family programs planned for this summer, visit camplaurelwood.org or call (203) 421-3736.

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