Camp Ramah in the Berkshires' New Ulam:
An Arena for Athletics and BeyondBy: Rahel Musleah, Writer/Editor of Camp Ramah in the Berkshire's Mifgash Ramah (Annual Newsletter)
Stand inside the Ulam, the new gymnasium and recreation center at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, and listen to the thudding of basketballs, the thwack of volleyballs zooming over a portable net, and the cheers and calls of some very happy campers. Take a peek down the hall and sit in on a yoga or Zumba class. Turn outward from the building's open design (no walls!) and breathe in the view of the Berkshire mountains, a green, serene panorama.
When Camp Ramah in the Berkshires (CRB) Director Rabbi Paul Resnick stands inside the Ulam (literally, arena), he sees a thirty-year dream that has become a 16,000-square-foot reality. Finished in time to help celebrate the Camps' 50th anniversary, it's the kind of reality that chokes him up. "When I started as a Junior Counselor thirty-five years ago, people were talking about the need for a gym," he says. "This building forever transforms what we do in Camp. It creates new memories for the new generation of campers." The $2 million, state-of-the art Ulam Bogrei Ramah recognizes the importance of CRB alumni and implies a large gathering place for many folks, says Resnick. It increases programming space by 50 percent, accommodating all 700 campers and 300 staff, 250 alone on the aluminum bleachers. Its open design will enable camp to expand its programming to reach higher levels. "There are limitless possibilities," says Resnick.
Completion of this project took long-term vision on behalf of the administration and board. JCamp 180 Mentor Julia Riseman encouraged camp staff and board members to dream big…and put a strategic plan in place to make it happen. Also crucial to the realizing the dream was the meticulous planning and practical implementation spearheaded by Business Director Amy Rosuck. The biggest hurdle, says Rosuck, was getting approval from the Town of Dover. A Master Site Plan was originally drafted by volunteer architect Sandy Berger, a Berkshires parent and Poconos alumna. It was submitted last summer together with building plans for the gym designed in partnership with Camp by local architect Curt Johnson of Zarecki & Associates.
The Town then required the following steps, among others: an archaeological dig to rule out any indication of a Native American site; noise studies conducted when camp was empty and full; architectural reviews; environmental studies; an investigation and wetland demarcation by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and further inspection by the Army Corps of Engineers. Research into the property's history uncovered black-and-white photos of the property when it was the Wingdale Country Club in the early 1920s and until 1964, Camp Kee-Wah. "It feels good to do something for camp they've wanted for so long," says Rosuck, who joined CRB in 2010.
A successful fundraising campaign topped by a generous contribution by an anonymous donor has made the building possible. Instilling a culture of philanthropy at camp has made a big difference. Fundraising skills were also important. "The various (JCamp 180) conferences over the years taught us as a team (how to best) court gifts and steward our donors," Resnick said. And JCamp 180 Mentor Julia Riseman led a team of Board members and other committed volunteers in a full-day training on making capital campaign asks. Their volunteer efforts engaged many supporters in the camp community to make this dream a reality.
After decades of dreaming and years of planning, construction began in the fall of 2011. One of the most touching moments took place on the last night of Staff Week. "We all linked arms in the Ulam and sang Shehehayanu," says Rosuck. "It was emotional seeing how much it means to the staff." The Certificate of Occupancy was issued on Opening Day and the Ulam was dedicated on Visiting Day, July 22, 2012. The space will be invaluable at the Camp's 50th anniversary celebrations this summer.