Staff Life, Staff Wellness: Supporting our Madrichim (Counselors)
Our madrichim (counselors) are at the heart of the chanich (camper) experience. Not only are they responsible for the daily care of the chanichim, but each madrich is charged with being a dugma ishit, a personal role model. And they are exceptional role models; our chanichim see how their madrichim act and want to be like them.
In the months leading up to camp, Camp Ramah New England (CRNE) recognized that our madrichim, after a year plus of isolation and other challenging circumstances, would need additional support to ensure their well-being and fulfill their responsibilities in top form. The steps taken to support madrichim began well before camp, and have intensified during the summer with the input of their input.
Before camp began, all new madrichim were called and were invited to share any concerns about their summer roles. They also were asked about what they were looking forward to at camp. Ten veteran tzevet (staff) members became certified in Mental Health First Aid to give them the tools to identify madrichim (as well as chanichim) who may be developing mental health problems and help connect them to appropriate care.
In the spring, a number of madrichim volunteered to join the new Staff Life Committee. Each week during the summer, Claire Shoyer, a member of the CRNE program staff, convenes madrichim Kobe Deener-Agus, Daniel Galper, Sophia Jacobson, Mimi Koenig, Jessie Lehman and Raz Moshkovitz, along with Rabbi Ed Gelb, Assistant Director Michelle Sugarman and Staff Support Specialist Yvonne White. The committee members, who represent a cross-section of madrichim, are often used as a focus group and sounding board to test ideas about programs (like camp-sponsored days off), schedule changes, and the like. Committee members also have the opportunity to share any concerns that other staff members have brought to them.
Committee member Jessie Lehman, a third-year madricha, finds the committee to be a helpful place to address what can be done to support staff. The meetings have provided her with a “behind-the-scene look at how decisions are made.” This, in turn, helps her to explain to others how camp balances various priorities to develop policies that may affect madrichim. Sophia Jacobson, a committee member who is a first-year madricha, finds that Rabbi Gelb’s explanations are “helpful to understanding where camp decisions come from” and that the committee allows her to share the concerns of other first-year madrichim.
Given the limitations on madrichim leaving camp this summer, CRNE also has provided important opportunities for madrichim to recharge:
- During the morning and early afternoon, “Roo Brew” (named for our trusty mascot, the kangaroo) provides coffee, tea and snacks for tzevet. Staffed by Elizabeth Richter and several of our Vocational Education participants, this in-house coffee shop provides all the coffee fixings our madrichim crave: flavored syrups, dairy and non-dairy creamers, and plenty of ice! Roo Brew has been a great hit!
- Late every evening, tzevet are invited to stop by the Chadar Ochel for delicious, ample and varied snacks, ranging from an ice cream bar to meatball subs to egg rolls and fried rice. The sweet potato fries and “bakery clean out” are huge favorites! In addition to refueling, this is a great time and place for tzevet to hang out, relax and socialize. And for madrichim who need to stay in their tzrifim (bunks) for shmira, late-night snacks are delivered by golf cart.
- CRNE, with the input of the Staff Life Committee, is also providing camp-sponsored days off, opportunities to sleep out of the tzrifim during days off, and late night programs such as spa and movie nights.
Yvonne , sometimes called the “staff yoetzet,” is always available to listen to the madrichim and to coach them if needed. Madrichim seek her out with a wide variety of concerns, such as challenges working with others or their personal organizational challenges. Yvonne also will help guide them if they have an idea that they want to implement.
Each week, at “Counselor Care” meetings, Yvonne, Rabbi Gelb, Michelle, Director of Camp Care Talya Kalender, the yoetzot (parent liaisons) and Rashei Edah (unit heads) identify madrichim who may need more support and work to ensure that madrichim receive positive feedback and recognition for jobs well done. Yvonne emphasized that the non-bunk staff members recognize that the bunk staff are the “lifeblood of camp and want to be able to support their needs.”
Madrichim have expressed their appreciation for CRNE’s steps to support them: the establishment of the Staff Life Committee to hear their concerns and the many steps that have been taken to support them when they are working with their chanichim, and on their time off. And CRNE is extraordinarily grateful to each of them for coming to camp this summer, and for making each moment count when they are serving as a dugma ishit for their chanichim.