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By Rhonda J. Prepes, P. Eng. July 29, 2010

“A summer camp is only as good as its instructors and counselors,” says Jamie Kagan, Rady JCC Day Camp Director.

Kagan was hired two summers ago to redesign the Rady JCC Day Camp. He is the head of science and math at the Gray Academy for grades 7-12 and owns a consulting company that reformats summer camps. He comes up with concepts, creates week long activities based on those concepts, and then produces the curriculum to support those activities.

Rady JCC offers Shemesh preschool half-day camps for children ages 3 – 5 and full day sports and specialty camps for children ages 6 – 12 called Keshet.

Since Kagan has come on board, the Keshet camp has grown from 50 children a week to 147 children a week. Shemesh Camp attendance has doubled in the last two years. It is sold out this year for the first time.

“We bring in quality instructors and quality counselors. Every instructor is the best in their field or an educator. Jonathan Hochman, a new young chef at the Lobby Restaurant, is doing the cooking camp. Freeze Frame Manitoba is doing the clay animation camp. Jordan Billinkoff of Billinkoff Productions which provides services in videography and photography is running the film making camp. We even have former University of Manitoba Bison players teaching flag football camp. The counselors are young adults studying at University who I have known for years and many of them are in the education field. They are high caliber individuals,” explains Kagan.

“The Rady Keshet summer camps are 85% sold out this summer. The most popular camps are cooking camp, science camp and CSI camp. I think that we are pretty in tune with what parents and children are looking for,” Kagan adds.

The Science of Fun Camp focuses on a wide variety of activities a regular science teacher never gets to do in school. Campers learn how chemistry is used in the making of many tasty treats such as gum, ice cream and soda pop.

At Rady CSI Camp, campers learn to use their forensic skills to catch the criminal in this weeklong mystery game. Campers learn how to dust for fingerprints, analyze hair and fabric samples, as well as, determine how to evaluate blood type.

 “What makes us unique is our facility with a gym, pool, classrooms, science labs, and even a full kitchen. We offer a safe environment. It is convenient for parents to drop off and pick up their children. We have enough indoor space and activities in case of rain or excessively hot days. We have consistency in counselors from year to year. We integrate children with special needs,” says Kagan.

“Also, we split the day with specialized structured programming in the morning and swimming, bouldering (horizontal rock climbing), XRKade™ interactive gaming zone and some unstructured time in the afternoon.  The idea is to give kids time to meet other kids, socialize, learn a skill, and most importantly, have a good time,” continues Kagan.

Children of all abilities are encouraged to participate in Rady camps. Sandy Sheegl, Special Needs Coordinator, coordinates the special needs programs and individual requests year round.

Currently, there are 4 or 5 special needs children, Jewish and non-Jewish, per week who require one to one aides and approximately 2 children who have self-identified as special needs, but are attending without an aide.

Sheegl usually hires and employs two full time aides, but this summer she has had to supplement that due to the growing demand. Aides are usually University students who have experience with special needs children and/or display maturity and compassion.

“If you want a special needs child to fit in at camp, you have to have your aide fit in, as well,” explains Sheegl.

Continuing to describe the growing popularity of Rady camps, Kagan goes on to say, “Because of the diversity of the programs that we offer, we are now getting children from all over the city including St. Vital and East Kildonan.  Word of mouth is our best marketing tool to grow our camp. It’s getting to be that if you don’t register early, you will not get into the camp that you want.”

“We are now the second largest summer camp in Winnipeg after Mini U at the University of Manitoba. Next year our focus will be on attracting more 11 and 12 year olds by offering 2 week long tween camps.  We will also be offering some great new camps next year like robotics,” reports Kagan.

Rady JCC Day Camp is accredited by the Manitoba Camping Association. This year’s Camp Director is Jamie Kagan; Assistant Director is Jeffrey Schachter; and Shemesh Director is Jennifer Moorby.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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