JCC Chicago overcomes pandemic challenge to provide 'Z' Frank Apachi Camp
It takes more than a life-altering pandemic to thwart the Jewish Community Center's "Z" Frank Apachi Day Camp in Northbrook.
Several things had to come together to pull off the annual children's camp on the 10-acre site at 3050 Woodridge Lane. That they did made it a special season in an uncertain time.
"It's not the typical summer in terms of the program, but it's a magical summer in terms of the impact," said Addie Goodman, president and CEO of JCC Chicago.
These camps -- there are nine Apachi Day Camps from Lake Zurich to Hyde Park -- take a year to plan, Goodman said. Like many people, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, staff members thought it would be a blip, not a lengthy near-cessation of activity.
"We thought we were going to be closed for two weeks," Goodman said.
By late May they realized otherwise. "Z" Frank Apachi director Stacey Skolnick and her staff had a month to reconstruct the five-week camp, which ends Friday.
One hurdle was the inability to provide round-trip bus transportation as usual. JCC worked with West Northfield School District 31 to use the lot at neighboring Henry Winkelman Elementary School as a drop-off and pickup point for the hundreds of parents who drove their children to camp. Fencing was constructed to direct campers from their cars straight to the camp entrance.
"It's that kind of logistical planning that is a camp director's secret sauce," Goodman said in praise of Skolnick.
Winkelman also served as a holding lot while staff quickly made temperature checks of all arriving campers. Health screens on the children had been required for two weeks prior to camp. As of Aug. 3, none had been diagnosed with COVID-19.
Normally about 800 children attend the "Z" Frank Apachi Camp; this year attendance was about 50% to 60%, much due to social distancing capacity.
Some parents chose to keep their children at home. Goodman had no problem with that.
"Their choice is the right choice for them," she said. "We are here for those who feel ready to engage, and we will be here for those others when they're ready to engage."
Ranging from preschool to seventh-grade, the children were directed by wayfinding markings on the sidewalks, and grouped by 10 with two counselors per group.
Under the Restore Illinois plan's Phase 4 guidelines the camp's two outdoor pools were open since camp began July 6. There, campers enjoyed a renovated 9,500-square foot pool house with new showers, bathrooms and outdoor lockers constructed by Design Construction Concepts. The Northbrook company built an all-season, 4,500-square-foot wooden outdoor pavilion on the property last fall.
The $1.2 million project, funded by community support and a grant from the Foundation for Jewish Camp's Yashar Initiative of The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, was built with a focus on ADA compliance. JCC Chicago camps annually host about 130 campers with special needs.
Though camp is almost over, JCC offers "Family Days" at "Z" Frank (also at the Lake County JCC in Lake Zurich), mini-getaways taking place from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. on Aug. 13-16, Aug. 20-23 and Aug. 27-30 at $18 per person up to a group of 10. For details, visit apachi.org.
Goodman said that, this year, staff members received more appreciative emails from parents than ever before. They wrote things like, "I've seen my kids smile again," and also thanked them for taking extra safety precautions.
"We call Apachi the best place under the sun," she said. "I think that really sung true to us in incredible ways this summer."