Virtual Mentorship at Camp Ramah in Northern California and What it Means for YOUR Camp

Highlighted at the 2020 JCamp 180 ADAPT Showcase, more about Camp Ramah in Northern California's Virtual Harga'ah

By Rabbi Sarah Shulman, Camp Director, Camp Ramah in Northern California
At the ADAPT Showcase during the JCamp 180 Conference in October, our virtual mentorship program - Virtual Harga'ah - was highlighted. You can read more about the program in this eJewishPhilanthropy article. Or, take a peek at this short presentation we used to share more about the program with our fellow Ramah Camps.
As described in eJewishPhilanthropy, Camp Ramah in Northern California’s virtual Harga’ah program was based on our in-person Harga’ah ritual at camp: an evening of communal stories, conversations, music, and prayers, often led by invited staff, visiting rabbis, and guest mentors. The word harga’ah” means “calming” and the program provided teens a soothing and holy relational and reflective moment – something that was especially needed in 2020.
The virtual version of Harga’ah connected campers to mentors of their choosing in 15-minute Facebook and YouTube sessions streamed Monday-Thursday. During these sessions, campers and mentors engaged in meaningful conversation and ritual that reflected Jewish values, culture, and learning – all while having fun!
 Keys to the Success of Virtual Harga’ah
We believe there were four main keys to the program’s success in 2020:
  1. Teen Voice/Well-Being
  2. Partnership
  3. Stakeholder Engagement
  4. Mentor Relationships
Each of these keys was important. Some increased engagement with key stakeholders, some provided learning and connection directly related to our camp’s core values, and others extended our ongoing outreach efforts to key partners.
Teen Voice/Well-Being
Throughout the pandemic, we have heard teens express that they are experiencing a lack of social interaction, tremendous uncertainty, and the absence of physical and social activities. We know that these are all key components of healthy adolescent development. For us, redefining teen engagement and implementing innovative approaches to engagement became critical to camp’s focus on nurturing social and emotional wellness generally, and especially during summer 2020.
A key component to the success of any teen program is inviting and empowering the voices of teens to shape our programs and assume leadership roles in program implementation. Through Harga’ah, we worked with our Camp Ramah teen leadership group of 10th and 11th graders in partnership with United Synagogue Youth (USY) Regional Board Members, who shared their ideas and helped to plan the program. Teens deepened their involvement through their identification of peer leaders and mentors, leading the daily Harga’ah sessions, and introducing their mentor to their peer community. These meaningful conversations and rituals reflected Ramah’s commitment to Jewish values, culture, and learning.
Leveraging our existing relationship with USY, Harga’ah blended Camp Ramah in Northern California’s virtual camp offerings and USY’s social and educational engagement programs. We promoted the program to all interested teens. By drawing in congregational rabbis and other Jewish educational mentors as guest mentors, we were able to further strengthen our ties with local synagogues and Jewish institutions. Mentors shared their time willingly and generously, covering topics from Emoji Storytelling, Challah Braiding, and Navigating Uncertainty, to Behind the Scenes of Performing Arts, Sharing Our Israel Experiences, Sports & Judaism, and Inclusion.
Stakeholder Engagement
Due to the nature of the camp “bubble,” many stakeholders do not often get a chance to experience camp’s daily routine, including learning activities. So while teens benefitted from engaging with a variety of stakeholders as mentors - including rabbis, cantors, parents, and camp leaders - sharing Harga’ah activities on YouTube and Facebook brought camp to a much wider audience of donors, community members, parents, and lay leaders.
Recognizing that we were incorporating lessons of resiliency, connectivity, and a host of other critical life skills, we pitched a story and were featured in eJewishPhilanthropy as well as at JCamp 180’s ADAPT Showcase. In our camp office, we joked that Harga’ah kept growing more legs - reaching more and more audiences with its impact and as a successful paradigm for virtual programming! Joking aside, our experience with Harga’ah makes us wonder about how we might better share and leverage other camp programmatic experiences in the digital sphere and through storytelling
Mentor Relationships
The unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic created a deep need for teen connection and meaningful engagement. One teen shared, “During a time like this, mentors are especially vital because there is so much uncertainty around us and hearing another person’s perspective helps us understand things in a different way and lightens what can otherwise be a scary situation.” 
We often think about content and learning objectives as we shape our programs at camp. Harga’ah has challenged us to remember that human relationships are at the heart of everything we do.
What’s Next for Camp Ramah in Northern California?
We are in the process of finding ways to take the learning of the summer Virtual Harga’ah experience and use it to inform our ongoing year-round programming.
In addition, we have been promoting the success of the program in grant opportunities. Harga’ah demonstrates our ability to be nimble and respond to challenges in creative and collaborative ways, which is both core to camp AND important to many funders.

We value USY and our other partners, and are always looking for additional ways to collaborate and extend the outreach of Jewish learning with mission-aligned organizations.
So…What Does This Mean for YOUR Camp?
Any camp can leverage what we’ve learned through the Virtual Harga’ah program. In particular, these are three key actions camps can take to build off of our success:
  1. Use What’s Working: identify what is currently successful or unique about your camp and identify ways to adjust the details to meet challenges, grow the program, or to identify unanticipated impact.
  2. Leverage Partnerships: reach out to existing/new partners to explore ways to combine forces toward greater impact.
  3. Incorporate and recommit to developing one or more of the key aspects detailed above in program design: teen voices, partnerships, stakeholder engagement, or mentor relationships.
What ideas do you have to build on this work? We appreciate being part of a strong and resilient camp network and continue to be inspired by our camp colleagues daily. Please share the ideas and programs you are inspired to create at your camp.