By BERNIE BELLAN In our last (Aug. 17) issue I wrote about the tremendous success Camp Massad had this past summer in terms of its number of campers.
In that same article I mentioned that I had spoken with Brenda Tessler-Donen, executive director of BB Camp, but at the time she was quite busy that week preparing for the return of the “Advanced Campers”, who had been away on a four-week canoe trip.
I promised though, that we’d have a report on BB Camp’s summer just completed, and true to her word, Brenda Tessler-Donen contacted me to give a description of much of what’s been going on at that camp.
Of all the items we went over in our phone conversation, the one that I found most intriguing – Tessler-Donen, too – was the huge increase in registrations of first-time campers, most of whom came from Russian-Israeli families new to Winnipeg.
Tessler-Donen noted that the first indication something different was in the works came at the camp’s open house, which was held June 5. “We had over 220 people come out to Town Island this year, Tessler-Donen remarked. “Many of those people had never heard of BB Camp – or Camp Massad,” she added.
Tessler-Donen attributed the enormous surge in interest in the camp to what she described as the “Russian network” in this city that keeps newcomers informed. What we have to do now, she said, is “keep the people who got involved in the camp for the first time engaged off-season”.
In terms of numbers, there were 310 campers altogether for both the first and second sessions. While the first session has generally been more popular than the second at BB Camp (in contrast to Massad, where the second session has been more popular than the first), this year the second session at BB Camp attracted 130 kids; last year, for instance, the figure was 93.
The six-week Leadership Training Program, which typically attracts 30-35 participants, had 43 this year. As Tessler-Donen explained, the vast majority of LTP participants, who are now eligible to be counselors at the camp next year, have been campers since the age 7.
One of the most interesting aspects of having so many more campers than usual, according to Tessler-Donen, was the significance she saw in many campers’ families wanting to become engaged in Jewish life. “There’s been a shift in priorities for a lot of parents; Jewish engagement has become more important,” she suggested – “especially for kids who have left Jewish day schools”.
As noted, many of the campers were from families recently arrived in Canada. Tessler-Donen noted that they often live in areas of Winnipeg that have not been traditional Jewish areas of settlement, such as St. James or St. Vital and, to a lesser extent, Charleswood. While some of these campers were recipients of scholarships (as was the case with many Massad campers, as well), Tessler-Donen thought it significant that many newcomer parents did not apply for financial aid – an indication of the degree to which they have adjusted to life here.
In other news about BB Camp, Tessler-Donen said that the day camp, known as Camp Playmore, and which has been in existence for seven years, also had its most successful year to date, attracting some 380 campers in six different sessions. The day camp caters both to Jewish and non-Jewish campers, with the kids brought out by boat each morning. (The Jewish kids have families cottaging in the area, Tessler-Donen explained, while the non-Jewish kids live in the Kenora area full time for the most part.) “We’re running a non-denominational program alongside a Jewish program,” she added. What having the day camp has also done, Tessler-Donen noted, is greatly improve relations between BB Camp and the Town of Kenora.
I asked Tessler-Donen whether there had been any major changes to the camp infrastructure this past summer. She said that the “Stoller lighthouse”, named in memory of the late Elaine Stoller, and which was dedicated last summer, was actually not opened until this summer. In addition, there were new showers – with private shower stalls for campers, as opposed to the communal showers they replaced; along with several new roofs; and upgraded flooring in the rec hall.
Looking ahead, Tessler-Donen said that there will be a major announcement this coming November about a new capital campaign. The goal of the campaign, she said, is threefold: Strengthen the camp’s endowment fund; pay off the existing mortgage on the land that BB Camp now owns. (Previously the land was leased from the Town of Kenora.); and invest in several capital upgrades.
Several donors have already been approached with an eye toward assessing the likely degree of acceptance for the capital campaign, which is under the chairmanship of Matthew Narvey. “Those donors were very excited about the campaign,” Tessler-Donen said.
In addition to grants received from the Jewish Foundation and the Winnipeg Foundation, this past year BB Camp was also a recipient of a grant from the Province of Manitoba through its Manitoba Community Places Program, Tessler-Donen said. That was a first for a camp located outside of Manitoba, she noted.
“Getting that grant will give us leverage to approach the Province of Ontario”, she suggested, with her reasoning being that “if Manitoba is supporting a camp outside of Manitoba, then so can you.”
Tessler-Donen observed that the camp’s success in attracting so many newcomer families has encouraged BB Camp to want to continue its efforts to strengthen community engagement across a broad spectrum. “We’ll be working with Shaarey Zedek and PJ Library, for instance” she said, to try and enhance the involvement of newcomers.
Finally, Tessler-Donen noted that both the University of Winnipeg and University of Manitoba will be making use of the camp next year on days when the camp will otherwise be unoccupied. “We want to make sure the camp is fully operational 13 weeks a year,” she said.
As was the case when we wrote about Camp Massad, it is evident that BB Camp is also reaching new heights of success – a testament to both its board and administration.