Swimming, canoeing, arts and crafts, fresh air, horseback riding, and making new friends are often what come to mind when reminiscing about days spent at summer camp. Each unique experience usually includes a few humorous stories and fond memories of the opportunities to learn and grow into well-rounded adults. Often, these memories will find a way into stories long into adulthood.
From fun-filled, worry-free days as a camper to adulthood memories of creating these types of experiences for today’s children, two Central Florida residents share their memories of summer camps past and present.
From Camper to Counselor and Beyond
Robby Etzkin of downtown Orlando, who is assistant executive director at the Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Greater Orlando, cherishes the memories he made at summer camp. Now, as an adult, he works with young summer campers at the same camp he attended when he was their age.
Etzkin went to Camp J at the JCC in Central Florida as a kid then became a counselor-in-training during high school. He continued working as a counselor while attending college. After graduation, he worked as camp director at the JCC in Richmond, Virginia and in Austin, Texas. Now, having returned to the campsite of his youth, he is assistant executive director and supervises the camp directors. Talk about coming full circle.
Because he attended the camp as a young child all the way through age 15, Etzkin has numerous fond memories. “One big thing that makes the JCC different is that it clearly is a Jewish day camp. For me, seeing kids take pride in their religious heritage is an important component to the cultural and educational experience. Also, I get to do the same things I did here as a kid,” Etzkin says.
Etzkin remembers the field trips, nature activities, singing songs and playing sports with his friends, all activities that are typical at summer camp. “My favorite memory was the overnight stays. We’d have our sleeping bags and our pillows. If I brought a stuffed animal, I hid it under my pillow,” Etzkin says. “The most fun was getting to swim at night. We’d stay up and watch movies.”
Etzkin’s many experiences with Camp J didn’t just provide him with happy childhood memories and lifelong friends. He also had the opportunity to explore and learn about the Jewish faith. The best part is that everything he learned at summer camp – from how to make new friends to the values shared by the Jewish community – has been experienced through different phases in his life. Since he had the opportunity to experience the camp through the eyes of a child, that makes creating similar experiences and memories for other children in his adulthood all the more special.
Amy Schwartz, marketing director at JCC of Greater Orlando, says, “We have many former campers working in our camp, and even sending their own children to Camp J. It goes full circle. It’s entering into a community that can be there for you for life.”
Carol Vereb, director of the children’s ministry at First Baptist Church of Windermere’s downtown campus, works with 3rd, 4th and 5th graders to ensure they have a smooth camping experience. She takes groups of children from the church to camp at CentriKid Camp, which has locations throughout the state. The camp offers activities such as archery, crafts, basketball, baseball, swimming, science and drama. “The kids can sign up and chose the activities they want to do,” Vereb says.
At this age, chances are high that the kids will be away from their parents for the first time. Vereb thinks this type of camping experience helps the kids grow emotionally and spiritually. “Camp helps the children learn coping skills so they can do things on their own. We are there to guide them and assist them. We have them brush their teeth on their own, learn to groom themselves, learn their own responsibilities,” Vereb says.
As a Bible-based camp, there is a message to grow them in their faith. Through themes, various skits and videos, it is a great way for them to gain added confidence. “Memories for life are made by the message being spoken to them through creative activities and stories and all the beauty that is at the camp environment. When you take the everyday distractions away, the scripture and the camp experiences really come alive,” Vereb says.
What It’s All About
While the children are busy making fun memories with their friends, Vereb’s memories range from responsible to humorous. She has helped kids adjust their braces and offered a supportive environment for them to learn personal responsibility while they were away from home. During one trip to camp, the whole group worked together to find a solution when their bus broke down two miles from the church. The group unloaded the sleeping bags and other camp supplies from the broken bus and loaded it all back onto a new bus. “It wasn’t funny then, but it is now,” says Vereb.
Each camp experience and the resulting memories are something the kids and their parents enjoy for years to come. Often the parents can see that their children have grown up a bit when they return home. “The kids open up more. You can really see their true personalities when they are in a new environment,” Vereb says. “The children you thought were weak are strong and the insecure ones become sure of themselves.”