The day started with a bang. Literally.
But no one was fazed. Everyone knew it was coming. It was 8 a.m. on a beautiful morning at URJ 6 Points Sci Tech Academy, and I was excited to see camp in action. The entire camp was gathered on the lawn following morning study based on daily blessings. Counselors ran onto the field and did something with dry ice and ping pong balls. Poof! There was indeed a big bang, lots of cheering, a rousing rendition of the “Boker Big Bang” song led by a very energetic song leader, and the day began.
That was just the start. After breakfast, I watched campers make nylon fabric (from “scratch”), visited a video game workshop where a camper matter-of-factly explained the coding behind his game, saw campers build a robot to deliver water to a thirsty seed, listened as a camper patiently explained to me how she developed a film she was making, and watched in fascination as another camper demonstrated use of a 3D printer. (It was the first time I had ever seen a 3D printer.) In yet another workshop, campers were learning how to use a stethoscope on a “patient” presenting with some curious symptoms.
Each of these workshops presented not only a STEM teaching opportunity; Jewish values and their connection to the particular area of science or technology which was the focus of the lab was front and center, very much part of the experience, combining these campers’ obvious passion for technology, science and inquiry with a meaningful engaging Jewish experience. Like other URJ camps, summer staff includes several Israelis, whose presence helps connect campers to Israel, particularly as an incubator of innovation. And this was all before lunch.
URJ 6 Points Sci Tech Academy is one of the URJ’s specialty camps, which combine a focus on a specialty interest with an immersive Jewish summer experience. It is one of the URJ’s 16 summer camps, that, together with Israel programs and Mitzvah Corps, provided over 13,000 youth, teens and young adults this summer with a meaningful experience living Reform Jewish values, lifelong friendships and a whole lot of fun.
WRJ helps make this happen. For example, among the many things I learned during my day at 6 points Sci Tech Academy was that each year the number of girls at the camp has increased. Recognizing the importance of increasing opportunities for girls and young women with interests in engineering, technology and the sciences and nurturing those interests, WRJ through the YES (Youth Education and Special Projects) fund provides scholarships for girls to attend the camp.
After lunch on the day of my visit, I got to speak with some of the female campers, as well as some of the women on staff, about their experiences. Fantastic. Amazing. Life changing. A perfect fit for who I am. I love it here. One young woman approached me privately at the end and said, “I am a recipient of a WRJ scholarship. Thank you. It’s the reason I can be here.” A hug later, she went on with her day.
I always knew WRJ made a difference. What a blessing to see it in person.
Shelley Niceley Groff is a WRJ board member and a member of Temple Beth Sholom in Miami Beach, Florida.