JULY 5, 2018, MARBLEHEAD – There was a palpable adrenaline coursing through the JCC on the morning of June 25. You could feel the antsy energy everywhere. High-pitched beeps of membership cards followed an unending stream of people in exercise clothing. In the distance, Zumba instructor James D’Ambrosio never stopped smiling as he rapidly contorted his body to thumping beats. About 20 women thumped along with him, attempting to keep up.
In the front office, someone spilled coffee onto the carpet, the kind of thing that always seems to happen when there are a hundred other little fires to put out. Was this an omen? You could feel people wondering. “Wish me luck!” said marketing associate Melissa Stern as she put on her neon crossing guard vest. They’re coming.
It was the first day of Summer at the J, and Stern was preparing to perform crowd control on over 400 campers. Karen Robinson, director of PR and marketing at the JCC, stressed newness.
“There’s a brand-new camp director, Leah Reich, who’s planned so much new fun stuff,” she said as she zoomed around Community Road, stopping every few steps to beam and wave at someone she knew. “Camp Simchah has new electives, and there are new brainpower camps, like field hockey and nutrition.”
Robinson was referring to Simchah’s specialized courses that comprise two hours of the older campers’ days. According to Robinson, a parent survey revealed that the brainpower camps were their favorite feature.
At the entry to the Epstein Hillel School, campers in brightly colored clothing found their teen counselors through the signs they were holding. Some flew over to their counselors and embraced them with the wild abandon of “camp friends,” seeing each other for the first time in eight months.
Lyla Feinberg, 7, of Beverly was happy because she couldn’t wait to take the Mad Scientist Brainpower elective. “I really dig scientists,” she said. “It’s cool to see how things turn out.” Last summer, Lyla took the same elective, and enjoyed learning how to make slime, a sticky concoction that young kids love and their parents … don’t. What most excited Lyla was the classic camp pastime: swimming.
“I’m really excited to get really good at swimming,” she said.
It was Jake’s first day of Kindercamp, and he didn’t care who knew it. On the winding, downhill slope leading to the outdoor pool, in a bright green shirt and fedora, he waved an informative sign: “Jake’s first day of Kindercamp” it boldly proclaimed, before letting us know his age (4), a few of his favorite things (the alphabet, “Sesame Street,” swimming, and numbers, among others) and his life ambition, (“dad.”)
His own dad, Brett Maitland of Salem, said that like many of his peers, Jake likes to carry around these signs, although sometimes he is less than forthright. “He’s all about the opposite now,” said Maitland. “So on the last day of school, [his sign] said it was his first day of school. On the first day of school, it’ll probably say it’s his last day of school.” Maitland, who attended Simchah himself (his mother, Barbara Maitland, taught tennis there), is impressed with the camp, particularly its inclusion program, which he said has benefited Jake.
While clutching his dad’s leg with a sheepish grin, Jake said he’s excited for camp, and his favorite thing to do is play.
Jake was a fitting prelude to the air of joyful whimsy that pervaded the outdoor pool pavilion where Kindercamp meets each morning. Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” boomed out of speakers, kids showed up in full wetsuits (“Their dad insisted,” explained their exasperated mother), and Kindercamp director Heather Greenberg wore a frilly tutu on her waist and a shark’s fin on her head (she wasn’t the only one: it was Silly Staff Day). Perhaps it was a preview for all the animals she’s booked for the summer: two camels for Israel Day, and an alpaca for a petting zoo in August. “I’m not kidding,” was all she had to add.
It’s not at every camp that preschoolers get to ride camels, and that’s what Kate Derr of Marblehead likes about the camp, where she sends her children, Henrik and Beatrice. “They make little kids feel like big kids,” she said.