After 15 years of summer day camps, Orange County families finally have a resident camp option of their very own. The Merage Jewish Community Center in Irvine is in the process of signing up campers, ages 7 to 16, to fill 110 spaces available for Camp Yofi, a sleep-away camp at Angelus Oaks in the San Bernardino Mountains.
Organizers are hoping that the camp will enable the center to reach families that live outside of the immediate Irvine-Newport Beach area that typically use the JCC's services.
"We wanted to create a program where people who do not live so close and do not normally come to the center could still be a part of it," said Sari Poremba, the camp's director. "The resident camp is definitely a way to do that."
In addition to reinforcing Jewish identity in children, the Merage JCC is hoping that Camp Yofi will act as a springboard for year-round community involvement. Organizers plan to hold camp reunions throughout the year at the center, encouraging participation from unaffiliated families in a community that had lacked a focal point prior to the center's opening in 2004.
"Not only will it strengthen the camp, but it will also strengthen the JCC as a whole," Poremba said.
Sheila Witzling, Merage marketing director, said that Yofi will also fulfill the traditional Jewish camp role of Jewishly inspiring campers, especially ones who might not have Jewish experiences at home.
"Not all of our kids are strongly connected to synagogues," she said. Camp Yofi "brings in people from all denominations. It creates a level playing field and opportunity to explore Judaism in a way that they might not have a chance to do."
Plans for the camp first arose during the Irvine center's construction. Last summer, Poremba held a naming contest, and the community voted for Camp Yofi, Hebrew for great or terrific.
"Most people liked the name because of how it sounded, not because of what it meant. It's short and happy," Poremba said.
Camp Yofi will feature a lake, athletic field, swimming pool, rock wall, zip line, outdoor sanctuary and a lodge, along with a campfire circle, dining hall and other camp accoutrements. Signups started Dec. 1.
While a majority of food served will be kosher-style, a glatt kosher option is available for observant campers at signup.
Merage has leased the site for six weeks, and each of the camp's sessions is expected to last two weeks. The number of campers is being kept small during the first year, at a ratio of one counselor for every five campers.
Two two-week sessions will be offered for third- through 10th-graders: July 23-Aug. 6 and Aug. 6-20. Counselor-in-training programs for 10th- and 11th-graders will run during the sessions, during which time the CITs will create an Avodah project for use by future campers.
Second- and third-graders can enroll in the camp's Aug. 6-13 Gesher program, which is intended to bridge the gap by splitting time between the JCC's day camp and its resident camp.
Tuition for a two-week session at Camp Yofi is $1,550 for JCC members and $1,750 for nonmembers. In exchange for their service, tuition for CITs will be reduced by $500.
Camp Yofi expects to rely heavily on the day camp clientele from the JCC's Camp Haverim, a 15-year enterprise that featured 500 campers last summer. Poremba is confident that her eight-year history as day camp director will reassure parents wary of sending their children off to a resident camp for the first time.
"There's a comfort parents have in knowing me for all these years," she said. "They feel comfortable sending their kids to a camp with me."
Poremba sees this first summer as crucial in establishing the Jewish traditions of the camp for years to come.
"It's going to be so important and meaningful to [the campers]," Poremba said.
For more information about Camp Yofi, call Sari Poremba at (949) 435-3400 ext. 234 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.