Eco Summer Camp
Growing up in Las Vegas, Stephany Yoabov never learned about compost. It wasn’t until running an overnight camp in Hawaii that she even heard about the organic process and its benefits.
As The Jewish Community Center of Southern Nevada’s new Family, Youth, and Camp Director, Yoabov plans to integrate environmentally-friendly concepts like composting, recycling, and conservation into the JCC’s summer Camp K’helah program, which is moving this year to the eco-friendly Meadows School campus in Summerlin for pre-K through 7th graders.
Though Southern Nevada isn’t home to a traditional summer eco-camp, some local camps are helping to bridge the gap for youth interested in the environment. Such programs not only help to instill a healthy respect for nature, but also create a habit of healing the earth in the younger generation.
“If we’re not educating our kids and empowering them with that knowledge now, then it’s not going to happen as they grow and teach their kids,” says Yoabov. “It will hurt us in the long run.”
At the Springs Preserve, weekly themed “Summer Adventure Camps” for kids ages 6-12 revolve around resource-consciousness, creativity, activity, and sustainable living. Camps take place on the Preserve’s 180-acre Platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified campus, featuring museums, galleries, a botanical garden, and an interpretive trail system.
“Summer Adventure Camps are a journey through the ultimate kids’ nature playground,” says Dawn Barraclough, a public relations representative for the Springs Preserve, which is owned by the Las Vegas Valley Water District (LVVWD). “The Springs Preserve provides the perfect backdrop for adventure, learning about our environment and culture, and cultivating tools for creative living.”
Now in its 23rd year, Camp K’helah won’t entirely hinge on nature and conservation, but adding eco programs and incorporating a green culture was a no-brainer for Yoabov.
In fact, it’s a Jewish imperative.
“Tikkun o’lam, repairing the world, is huge,” says Yoabov, who formerly managed day camp, therapeutic recreation, and inclusion programming for the City of Henderson Parks and Recreation Department. “If we’re not leading by those values, then we’re missing a whole message of what Judaism is about.”
With solar panels, a recycling program and desert landscaping, she believes The Meadows School will be a great environment for this summer’s camp, which will build on the traditions campers and families love while adding new, enriching and empowering STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) programs to help campers gain modern-day skills.
The curriculum will also integrate specialty eco-camps, such as a week long class on solar energies. Campers will choose between building four different solar powered projects - a solar oven, a solar water distiller, a solar food dryer, or solar race cars.
Yoabav is still designing additional eco-friendly programs, like Mitzvah Mondays, where campers team up to give back to the local community by doing good deeds. She also considers current events, like the catastrophic drought in South Africa, as teachable moments for campers.
“This natural disaster is a prime example of why we need to make stronger efforts to conserve our water and energy on a local level,” she says. “While our water levels at Hoover Dam have come up over the past decade, it has not been at full capacity since 1983. If we don’t begin conserving more now, I’m afraid we will run out of water for our generations to come. The same goes for energy…if we don’t step our efforts up today, we will run out of our natural resources tomorrow.”
Such localized lessons are an ideal approach to kids’ environmental education, according to Blair Griffin, Community Education Manager for the Seattle-area environmental learning center and eco-camp IslandWood. In his experience, youth are engaged by ideas and concepts within their sphere of control, rather than those with several moving parts.
“Talking to a 10-year-old about climate change isn’t always the best thing,” explains Griffin, who describes the camps at IslandWood as fun, interesting, and a little strange. “It’s going to have the reverse effect. It’s going to make a kid feel a little bit less empowered, less excited about doing something positive and a little bit more dower, a little more hopeless.”
He suggests focusing on what the kids can do well in their own backyards and at their own ages, whether it’s starting a recycling program at school or striving to be a better person overall.
“Our hope is that kids will leave looking at their connection with their community a little bit more and feeling a bit more empowered so they keep learning,” he says.
That’s certainly Yoabav’s goal.
“It’s a domino effect,” she explains. “If we’re not teaching them now, what’s the hope for our future?”
In addition to the day camp at The Meadows School, Camp K’helah will offer a five-day sleepaway camp, Camp K’helah Pines, located in Big Bear, CA, from August 1-5. Campers will build self-confidence, make new friends, gain an appreciation of nature and the environment, try new activities, and develop new skills in a traditional camp setting.
More information will be available at a kickoff event for Camp K’helah from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. March 4 at The Meadows School.
The Springs Preserve’s summer camp runs June 4 through Aug. 10. Each week features a new theme and opportunity to be inspired by the nature, history, and cultural stories currently shaping our lives in Las Vegas. Online registration is available at https://www.springspreserve.org.