It was the next-to-last day for Camp Kind, and the kids were unwinding at Boondocks Food and Fun in Northglenn after spending a bit of the morning spreading mulch at a Hebrew school in Westminster.
A few kids had stopped at the cafeteria to power up, and some were huddled in the air-conditioned indoors, around video games and skill challenges. But most were posted where the action was, outside at the bumper tubes and near the dual go-kart tracks.
It was a moment or relaxation for campers, the first to attend Rabbi Benjy Brackman’s inaugural program, which focuses on courtesy and kindness.
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Camp Kind — a project of Chabad of NW Metro Denver — debuted its two-week program at Silver Hills Middle School in Westminster July 11. The results were what Brackman said he had already expected.
“It’s going extremely well. It was gratifying to see that parents really believe in it and signed their kids up, but perhaps more importantly, it was really gratifying to see the kids buying into it,” Brackman said. “The kids really like it, they enjoy it, exactly as I anticipated.”
The potential for mixed feelings was certainly there: Camp Kind is no ordinary camp, in that “fun” activities are a part of the program, but not the only piece.
Instead, Brackman said Camp Kind is about imbuing children with a love of contributing to community, helping others and protecting the environment. He said the camp accomplishes its mission by offering workshops and fun hands-on educational projects, along with field trips where campers enjoy exciting volunteer projects and sustainable living experiences.
“I liked all the stuff we got to do, the community service,” said camper Olivia Martin, 10, of Westminster. “It actually teaches us a lot of lessons about stuff like how to help the environment.”
The group took field trips to places like the Wild West Ranch, the Milk and Honey Farm, Foothills Animal Shelter, Precious Child and Project Angel Heart, where campers performed talent shows for seniors, crafted gifts for Children’s Hospital Colorado and created toys for animal shelters — while also engaging in traditional day camp activities like sports, crafts and drama.
“I don’t think the kids really knew what they were getting into before they came out here, and so I think each day brings them a new experience,” Brackman said. “Today, we’re at Boondocks. But some days, there’s real work involved.
“And they’re learning important lessons about what it means to be kind — kind to each other, kind to seniors, kind to animals and the environment. It’s something that I think will stay with them for a long time,” he added.
Additionally, each Camp Kind field trip or project is coupled with “Team Time,” where the campers discuss and internalize their experience.
“We’ve been wanting to get the whole family involved in volunteering, but this is an even better start for the kids,” said Westminster mom Catherine, who didn’t want to give her last name. “They are really loving giving back to the community.”
One camper, Skylar, is autistic, making emotional developments more difficult, according to his mother, Suzanne. However, Suzanne, who didn’t want to give her last name, saw remarkable change in the first few days Skylar was at camp.
“We’ve worked on these ideals and emotions since he was 7, and yet he didn’t grasp it — until his first day of Camp Kind,” said the Northglenn mom. “He talked the whole way home of all he had accomplished and how just being kind with no reward ‘felt awesome.’”
The idea to open Camp Kind began last summer when Brackman, executive director of Chabad of NW Metro Denver, a local Jewish outreach center, received a phone call from a mother who was looking for a volunteering experience for her son. He had been in trouble at school and had 50 hours of community service to fulfill. Brackman was happy to suggest the boy paint the fence on his center’s property.
Brackman was surprised by the boy’s response to the tough work. It prompted the rabbi to consider opening a day camp to give local kids a similar fulfilling volunteering experience, working with local charity and nonprofit organizations.
“It goes to the heart of what I believe, which is that kids enjoy being good and enjoy helping,” Brackman said. “It’s just a matter of giving them an opportunity.”
Parents bought into it, too: There were 27 campers for the inaugural event.
“I think that’s a very good turnout for the first time,” Brackman said.
Campers were incredibly receptive and enthusiastic, and a few even took a precious moment of time at Boondocks to talk about their experiences.
“It was very fun,” said Elliot Staub, of Golden. “We had really fun opportunities to volunteer …”
“ … and help the community,” added Maya Dhuler, of Broomfield, finishing Staub’s sentence.
And with that, the girls — four of them in all — made a beeline for the go-karts, where they took their place in line and patiently awaited their turns.
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