At Settoga, the Magic is in the Connections

Sometimes stepping out of your comfort zone and into the unknown requires a little, well, comfort.

For the more than 300 children who attend the JCC's Camp Settoga in Pomona, NY, that comfort comes from the camp's staff—a good number of whom hold positions at the JCC during fall, winter, and spring. From boarding the bus for the very first time to taking the tests that will determine their swim level, campers—and their parents—find reassurance in familiar faces.

A beloved teacher at the JCC's Saul and Carole Zabar Nursery School for the past 10 years, Settoga Director Adam Metzger is a comforting presence to a significant number of campers—last year alone, he estimates that at least 30 of our Settoga campers had been in his class at one time.

Having witnessed plenty of "first days" at the JCC, Metzger has an inside track when it comes to kids' emotions. "Often the bus is kids' biggest fear," he says. "Boarding the bus signifies jumping into a new physical place and seeing new people. Knowing that there will be someone they know when they get there helps campers and parents alike."

Kerin Robins, head of camper and staff care at Settoga and program coordinator for infants and young children at the JCC, says that everyone in our camp community benefits from these relationships. "It's a ripple effect. Those who are familiar with us are empowered, and their behavior affects change in others. It's a beautiful lesson."

Nine members of the Settoga swim staff this past summer are also on the year-round swim faculty at the JCC. With campers in the pool twice a day (once for lessons, once for free swim), comfort is key. While the "simplicity" of the program (with three degrees of swim proficiency) at Settoga is in deep contrast to the JCC's multilevel school-year offerings, Carolina Stapleton, who serves as director of infants and young children's aquatics at the JCC, says the two programs complement each other perfectly. "What we bring from the JCC to camp is the knowledge of more levels, the experience of dealing with more kids and with more parents. We funnel the knowledge into something more concentrated for camp."

For Michelle Wexler, who supervises the tweens who serve as CITs at Settoga, her job coordinating this age group during the rest of the year has proved immeasurably helpful to building CITs' confidence, and their campers' comfort as a result. "I had an understanding of how to best communicate with tweens, what their interests were, and where I could start skill development," she says.

The connections that form between campers and staff continue long after summer is over, with scheduled events held throughout the year in a program called Settoga 365.

"Settoga 365 is a unique opportunity for campers and their families to maintain friendships, relationships, and skill-building throughout the whole year," says Director of Camps Genna Singer. "It keeps the magic of camp alive by encouraging kids to go from being camp friends to year-round friends."

365 events have included Art with Adam (Metzger), a camp-themed Kids' Night Out, a Shabbat Shabbang Jr. for camp families, and a camp T-shirt decorating party to celebrate International Camp T-Shirt Day. Not to mention the afterschool 16 Handles frozen yogurt party that takes place each fall. Such events, says Metzger, let staffers retain a year-round connection with our campers and their campers with each other.

Mori Mitchneck, 7, who will be starting his fourth summer at Settoga this year, has attended several 365 events. His mother, Alison Gardy, calls the year-round community "part of a continuing story. Summer is its own experience, but the staff who work with the kids all year give it a special continuity."

The year-round "check-in" events, Gardy says, allow Mori "to feel the momentum toward something and have something to look forward to. There's nothing like being known well by the adults in your life in the pivotal experience of summer."

"We're fortunate we serve a community that lives nearby," says Singer. While kids at most camps have to wait 10 months to experience the joy of camp (hence the expression "10 for 2"), Singer says, "for our kids, 365 and having a staff that's a presence in the building allows them to integrate their summer camp community into their lives all year."