By Rabbi James Greene
Summer camp is unique because it is one of those enterprises in which flexibility, creativity and planning are foundational parts of the success equation. As Camp Laurelwood, Connecticut’s only Jewish overnight camp, closes an unusual summer season featuring smaller retreats and family camps on our beautiful Madison campus, we are already preparing to launch next year’s programs, including a return to overnight camp. In the mist of the pandemic, the staff and lay leadership are using 83 years of experience, leadership and creativity to keep things safe and fun for its campers.
I became Camp Laurelwood’s executive director in March, just as the pandemic began. Health and safety will continue to be a top priority as camp reopens in 2021 after its first canceled summer since opening in 1937. We continue to adhere to enhanced safety and health precautions as recommended by the CDC and local health authorities.
After a summer where overnight camps were cancelled and social interaction was extremely limited, camp will be more important than ever. It will create an important opportunity to reconnect with friends, build new relationships, and avoid Zoom and screen fatigue. As many communities in Connecticut head back to school with a hybrid or virtual schedule, a break from technology and a return to the simple experiences of camp will be critical for the social and emotional development of campers. My own two daughters are Laurelwood campers and I see the impact camp has on their spirit and personality. They gain confidence at camp, grow into young leaders, and nurture their Jewish identities as part of the Laurelwood community.
Camp Laurelwood was originally started by families in the New Haven Jewish community, but now campers come to Laurelwood from all across Connecticut. In fact, families from the Hartford area are now the largest contingent of campers. This growth across the state highlights the impact of Laurelwood on the entire Jewish community in Connecticut. Moving forward to next year, Laurelwood is hoping for continued support from Jewish organizations across Connecticut to help overcome the significant loss in income from this past summer.
Families considering overnight camps in 2021 should give Laurelwood strong consideration. Our staff is dedicated and caring, and the depth of relationships at Laurelwood run through generations of campers and alumni. Our values-driven and welcoming environment means we have campers from around the state and across the Jewish identity spectrum. We are a true melting pot of Connecticut’s Jewish identity, and Camp gives children the opportunity to grow into their Jewish selves. Once you are connected to Laurelwood, you remain a part of the Laurelwood family.
Families also expect a great experience at camp. As a nature-guide and avid homesteader, I am especially excited about some of the outdoor enhancements coming to camp this year. In addition to our fantastic family of counselors and specialists, camp also has a wonderful array of facilities and programs. Set on over 140 wooded acres near the Connecticut coastline, Laurelwood is expanding its nature programming next year to include new nature trails, a larger garden area, and a chicken coop, giving campers first-hand experience with raising animals and growing their own food. We will continue to evaluate and improve camp’s facilities and program offerings to ensure campers have the best possible experiences.
We are excited and optimistic as we look ahead to next year. Camp Laurelwood has supported Jewish families in Connecticut since 1937, and we will continue to do that for decades to come. Our camp’s mission is more critical now than it has ever been, and I hope that families will join us through our year-round programs around the state, and next summer at our home in Madison.
For more information about Camp Laurelwood or to schedule an in-person or virtual tour, call the (203) 421-3736. We can also connect with a camp alumni or current camp family to hear firsthand about their Laurelwood experience.
Rabbi James Greene is executive director of Camp Laurelwood.
Main Photo: Campers enjoyed archery at Camp Laurelwood in summer 2019 – they’ll be back at it in summer 2021!