Prioritizing Mental Health at Camp

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Campers and staff are coming to the URJ Camp Kalsman this year from all over the world. From Israel to Poland, Florida to California, many people want to be a part of the magic that happens in the mountains of Arlington, Washington. We all have our own lived experiences, and though much in our lives are different, there are many similarities, too. We all smile, laugh, cry, and have feelings that we can’t quite explain sometimes.

We all become busy with routines we’ve created to pass our days, and distractions are lurking at every corner to prevent us from our goals, family time, and unwinding from stress. Now, let’s add a pandemic. COVID-19 is a shared experience causing us all to reevaluate our busy lives. It’s asked us to slow down and reinvent the wheel on how we work, live, play, and interact across the globe.

Many positives have come from the pandemic and at the same time, plenty of stresses as well. We’ve stayed connected online learning how Zoom works, and food delivery services like UberEats have popularized, keeping us fed at our hungriest moments (always serving as solid choices on cozy nights in as well). Introverts are living the dream with their favorite Netflix series at home while extroverts are improving their dance skills on TikTok and staying connected through social media.

However, despite the good that’s come from time at home, of course, both children and adults have been negatively impacted by the social changes of the pandemic as well. In the United States, anxiety has risen by around 30% since the start of COVID-19 and the number continues to rise.

Here at Camp Kalsman we see how the pandemic has impacted us all and we know that summers here are valuable to kids of all ages. Every day we are blessed with an opportunity to spend our days outside taking in the sounds of nature and our surrounding environment: birds chirping, children laughing, and our camp dog, Kallie, barking in the background. We experience sights of bees pollinating flowers on our walks to the main area of camp, enjoy canoeing on Butterfly Lake, and cheer for each other as our friends reach the top of the tower. We taste Chef Jeremy’s freshly cooked food, play in the pool and jump like crazy during Shabbat Shira on the sports field as the sun sets in the background. Most importantly, we build connections with others that will last a lifetime. These small, mindful moments in our days at camp aid in our mental, emotional, and physical health in ways beyond our imagination.

Being outdoors naturally does wonders for our mental health, however, understandably, sometimes it’s not enough. At Kalsman, we’re grateful to have a dedicated Camp Care team to assist with both general and specific mental health concerns, working to ensure all campers and staff can thrive at camp. We work with those having feelings of anxiety, depression, etc., aid counselors and supervisors in managing cabin and staff dynamics and empower everyone to be the best versions of themselves. We’re here to listen and support anyone in need.

Starting last year Kalsman created a dedicated Zen Zone. The Zone provides those in need a space to recharge mentally and physically away from the busyness of camp through various activities and toys. It’s been a success so far and we’re excited to expand upon the idea in the summers to come.

We know one’s home has been a safe space for many children and adults during the pandemic, and our hope is that camp, another home for many, continues to be a safe space as well. Struggles with mental health manifests itself in many ways among people and our hope is to meet everyone where they are with compassion. We’re looking forward to continuing to grow in the ways we bring awareness to mental health and working together to continue cultivating a safe space for everyone who comes to camp.

By: Claire Griffin, Camp Care Director