Camp Ramah in California Northern California Initiative
March 2010 Nissan 5770
From November through January we held 11 focus groups throughout Northern California. Around 100 parents of potential campers participated in conversations about what they are seeking in a summer sleep-away experience for their kids. This important research was made possible by the efforts of 30 volunteers who hosted, recruited, facilitated and documented the groups. Special thanks go to Ruth Bernstein of EMC Research in Oakland who donated her expertise to design the study and train volunteer facilitators.
As you might recall, we previously conducted a quantitative market study. Focus groups provide qualitative information which is hard to capture in an online survey. Here are some of our key findings from the group participants.
Camp should be safe and fun and lifetime friendships formed
Parents need to be confident of their children's physical and emotional well-being. And if summer camp isn't fun, why bother? Parents are excited about a camp that recruits from a large enough area for their kids to make new friends, but compact enough for their kids to see each their camp friends during the school year. Many participants in the groups still maintain friendships formed at summer camp 20-30 years earlier. They want their kids to have that in their lives, as well.
Campers should learn new skills
"Kids should be like butterflies trying different flowers"
Parents look at summer camp as an opportunity for kids to learn independence and want kids to have the opportunity to make choices, have housekeeping responsibilities (in the bunk, neighborhood, or dining hall), and try out new experiences. There should be regular athletic and artistic activities and everyone agreed that swimming should be available daily. Camp is also a place for kids to develop leadership skills.
Jewish education, Hebrew learning and living Jewish values should be integrated across the entire program
Parents who went to Jewish summer camp have strong positive memories of the celebration of Shabbat, and want their kids to have the same experience of white clothes, amazing singing and Israeli dancing, and the sense of calm which rests over the camp. But they want more Jewish experiences than that. They want Hebrew and Jewish values to permeate every aspect of the program.
Campers should be unplugged
Camp is a time to be outdoors and in nature. A few parents even suggested a camp that has no cell phone reception would be ideal. It's an opportunity for kids to learn how to interact with the natural world and each other without the intrusion of technology. Overnight camping trips are important as are bonfires and s'mores.
The campsite should be rustic, but clean.
Parents emphasized that the facility should be functional, not fancy. They are looking for a simplicity that their kids don't often encounter in their everyday life. Parents also expressed a lot of interest in a "green" camp including, perhaps, a vegetable patch, some farm animals and composting.
A lake would be really really nice
Many of the parents' happiest memories of camp were around rowing, paddling and sailing.
This information, along with all the other input we gathered from these groups, will be used as we design a Camp Ramah for Northern California. Thanks to all the participants and volunteers who made this possible.
We are currently engaged in an active site search. If you are interested in volunteering to become a trained site scout, please hit the reply button and I'll let you know more about what would be involved. With best wishes for a happy and meaningful Passover, ellen bob Director of Community Development in Northern California Camp Ramah in California