For more than 40 years, Camp Shalom has offered a traditional Jewish day camp experience for children and youth from kindergarten through 10th grade. Located on 75 acres along the Farmington River, the camp and its programs build character and confidence in campers, while allowing them to forge friendships and, most of all, have fun. Camp Shalom is a Mandell JCC program and receives a portion of its funding from the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford. Below, camp director Colby Wyckoff recounts the preparation that goes into each "summer of fun," with exciting additions for this year's campers.
There is an unmistakable sound this time of year that pierces through the noise of day-to-day life at the Mandell JCC. It’s a buzz only I can hear, and it gets louder as we approach the end of June. It is the sound of a clock ticking — counting down the weeks, days, hours, and minutes until we kick off the upcoming season of Camp Shalom. This year, we mark our camp's 44th season.
With summer fast approaching (my second as director), my “to-do” list resembles one of those CVS receipts — astonishingly long and with a sweet deal at the end. Despite the endless checklist, I get a rush of excitement during the final weeks of preparation as I anticipate old friends reuniting, the new friendships that will be made, and the memories that will last a lifetime.
To make those moments happen, we begin with our facility, nestled in the woods along the Farmington River. Harsh winters sometimes leave behind considerable cleanup. Landscaping 75 acres of space truly takes a village, and we love those days in May when our JCC staff comes together to weed, dig, and plant. On the less glamorous side, there is also the need for tree removal, gutter cleaning, roof repair, plumbing, electrical, bathroom renovations, and demolition of older cabins.
Sprinkled among the necessary maintenance jobs are the exciting additions we have planned for this summer. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we are building a new regulation-size tennis court, which will also include pickle ball courts for this increasingly popular sport. We are also adding to our ropes course, a camper favorite when it debuted last season.
While there's much to be done during the spring to get ready for the upcoming season, preparations truly begin the day after camp ends the prior year. Nothing is more important to us than staying connected with our camp families year-round by means of our JCC programs, emails, and social media. Speaking of staying connected, throughout the off-season we have steady communications with a nationwide network of camp directors who share ideas for the upcoming season. We also have frequent contact with the State of Connecticut's Office of Early Childhood, the local health department, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on issues related to youth-camp licensing and COVID regulations.
Much of the fall and winter months are dedicated to program planning. Working closely with specialists and directors, we create a curriculum that not only enhances our current activities but also creates new and exciting experiences.
The most important part of our camp readiness, however, is hiring new staff. These are the people responsible for keeping a smile on your child’s face each day. We make extensive efforts to promote employment opportunities, review applications, and interview the best candidates in order to assemble the best roster of talent and achieve our campers’ most memorable summer ever.
As I write, we are getting ready for our three-day staff training, preparing new and returning staff for the upcoming summer. This training includes a review of policies, procedures, security protocols, and certifications — but most important is the time we spend bonding and coming together as a team.
While we work year-round to prepare for a camp that lasts only eight weeks, we do so knowing that we're creating memories for our campers that will last a lifetime.