A new, one-week summer day camp for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender kids and their supporters or children of LGBTQ+ parents is launching this summer at the Henry Kaufmann Campgrounds in Wheatley Heights.
The pilot program is designed for ages 12 to 18 and will run from Aug. 6 to 10. It’s called Camp Ga’avah and is run by the Friedberg JCC of Oceanside, however campers don’t have to be Jewish to attend, says Joni Center, executive director of the JCC. Ga’avah is the Hebrew word for pride.
“It’s going to have the traditional activities of a day camp — drama, sports, arts, trips, gaga,” Center says. However, groups will be split appropriately, and may not be by “boys” and “girls” as in traditional camps due to gender fluidity in the LGBTQ+ community, and swimming will be optional, Center says. “It’s a traditional day camp built on a new model.”
The concept came out of a UJA-Federation of New York contest called “Big Idea.” The Friedberg JCC submitted the idea for the camp and was selected as one of four finalists for an online vote. “We did not win, but UJA saw the value in the program and thought it was a great idea,” Center says. UJA gave the JCC a $40,000 grant anyway to launch the camp, she says.
“It got on our radar, and we are so excited,” says Hana Gruenberg, managing director of the Jewish Life department at UJA-Federation of New York. “We’re hoping very much that it’s successful and we can bring it to our other campgrounds as well.” UJA-Federation of New York also has campgrounds in Staten Island and Rockland County.
The Friedberg JCC is hoping to start with 20 kids this summer, but will accept more if interest is there, Center says. “We could take hundreds,” she says. The JCC is hoping to hire staff members who are members of the LGBTQ+ community, will bring in relevant speakers during the camp week, and will follow up with year-round Long Island programing, Center says. “We want to build confidence. We want these teens to feel good about who they are,” Center says.
Joanna Levitt, a teacher who works with the Gay Straight Alliance at Elmont Memorial High School, called the camp idea “amazing.” It will be empowering for kids to meet other kids who share a common experience, and to meet adults who can relate to them because they’ve lived it, she says. “Seeing a mentor, someone who is older than you who has made it through the very rough teenage years, is going to tell you that you can get through this and things are going to be OK,” she says.
Ursula Nigro, director of operations for the Transgender Resource Center of Long Island, also applauds the idea, calling it “fantastic” for kids who don’t always have a place they feel totally themselves. “When they’re in a safe space and they’re together, it’s marvelous to see them laugh and flourish and be happy,” Nigro says.
A cost per camper hasn’t yet been determined, says Stephanie Abrams, JCC development director. “We are accepting donations,” she says, to try to keep the cost as reasonable as possible and to provide scholarships for campers who need them. A fundraiser is planned for June 20 at Gotan, 130 Franklin St. in Manhattan. The JCC hopes to make the camp a full-summer program in 2019, Abrams say. “It’s so important for them to have this place,” she says. “Here, they can let their guard down.”
For more information, call Abrams at 516-634-4164 or visit friedbergjcc.org/campgaavah/.