As a camp counselor at Camp Echockotee, perched on the murky, swampy Doctors Lake in North Florida, camp cleanup was always the most dreaded day of the summer.
Fortunately, it was only a day camp, so the process of organizing life jackets, scrubbing canoes and picking up spare BBs from the ground only took just as long.
But surprisingly, when turning down a camp hundreds of acres wide, the process is not much different.
Lisa David, director of Camp Harlam in Kunkletown, said staffers break down the summer in waves, similar to how they initially build up to the season.
Of the more than 500 campers per session — and half that amount of staff — they all returned home last Sunday, though staff stayed for an additional night to debrief, share performance reviews and enjoy some time together.
Supervisors remained on the premises an extra day for further inspections; professional staff a day after that.
“For the most part, we’re packing up our bunks, putting away the equipment and winding down and moving back to Philadelphia,” at least for the professional staff, she noted, who are based in a Bala Cynwyd office.
Although summer camp has ended, Family Camp will occupy Camp Harlam the weekend of Aug. 25, along with a smaller staff.
“For us, it’s a fairly similar experience [to the summer] except that it’s intergenerational,” David added. “We want them to have a sample of everything that campers experience.”
Most of the program is family bonding through camp activities, like athletics, arts or Shabbat. There’s also time to separate for programs just for kids and just for adults.
“For us, it’s a mix of alumni, current families and prospective families that come, so it’s also about building that community,” she said.
The season officially concludes after the retreat, but off-season business begins with winterized facilities on the 300-plus-acre campground.
Most of the off-season use is rented by the camp’s partner organization, the Union for Reform Judaism, along with the North American Federation of Temple Youth.
During a weekend in October, prospective campers can get a taste of what to expect in the summer months. In the spring, Tikkun O-Camp invites community members to open the camp for the season by preparing the garden or painting buildings to help prep the site.
David said character development is an important element at Camp Harlam that they try to instill in campers.
“Those range from seeking out joy to building inner beauty or pushing through a challenge, so our hope is that [campers] experience some growth in those areas,” she said.
Joshua Sternburg, director of finance and operations at Camp JRF in Wyncote, said its staff also stayed one day after campers departed Aug. 13 to clean up, in addition to helping out during Family Camp last week.
Seventeen families joined JRF for half a week of camp fun, usually comprised of “families with children who are a little bit too young to be at camp during the summer.”
“They use it as a trial to get to know what camp’s all about,” Sternburg added, “to experience camp with their parents.”
Between summer session ending and Family Camp beginning, Sternburg said they close program areas and clean out cabins within 24 hours.
Sternburg said a handful of regulars rent out the space during the rest of the year. All funds from rentals goes back into the JRF overall operating budget.
“Our facility is not winterized, so we can only utilize it during the summer months,” he explained, “and during the shoulder season before and after the camp.”
Mitch Morgan, executive director of Pinemere Camp in Stroudsburg, noted that the most important time after the kids leave is to gather staff for a “combination of cleaning up, taking inventory, putting some things away that are stored for the winter and some things that we’ll be using again for the off-season.”
Pinemere’s Family Camp takes place in mid-September. Its rental business is comprised of individual families, organizations like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, youth groups, and synagogues.
“And the occasional wedding or Bar or Bat Mitzvah that happens at camp,” he added.
Although the main focus of their business is the summer camp, Pinemere’s campground sees a wavering frequency of rentals each year.
“There are some times where we feel like we’re changing things over and up there weekly for another group, and other times that a month can go by and no one’s there,” he said.
Overall, Morgan said camp is about the campers, and since ending a couple weeks ago, they’ve received a bunch of emails, calls and letters sharing notes of gratitude for having their best summer yet.
So far, the camp has already approached 90 percent in retention for next year.
“They made friends. They connected with their staff. They feel like they’ve grown as an individual, and that might be that they’ve connected to their Jewish identity, it might mean that they learned a lot about themselves,” he said. “But we hope they had a really fun summer and that they grew as an individual, too.”
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