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“We look forward to breaking ground on a new Teen Village, thanks to the generous support of the L.L. Foundation for Youth. It will be a beautiful home for our teens to grow, build community and participate in immersive nature-based Jewish experiences. This enhancement to our campsite could not come at a better time for our teens.”

-Jamie Simon, Chief Executive Officer, Camp Tawonga 

A Focus on Diversity and Mental Health During the Pandemic

For 95 years, Camp Tawonga has served as a leader in Jewish camping with a mission that fosters positive self-esteem, cooperative community and enduring connections to nature and Judaism. Tawonga’s campsite spans 160 acres just outside of Yosemite National Park. Each summer, children arrive at Camp ready to stretch their comfort zones and return home more compassionate, self-confident and curious. Resonant, innovative programming for children, teens, young adults and families continues in the San Francisco Bay Area throughout the year. 

In recent years, Tawonga has prioritized organizational change, with a keen focus on Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) initiatives. The agency is committed to bringing more Jews of color, members of the LGBTQIA+ community and people with physical and mental disabilities into the fold. To that end, Tawonga has provided multiple diversity trainings to staff and board, recruited more Jews of color to the board and is partnering with Project Shamash to host its first ever Jewish Families of Color Weekend on September 9-12, 2021. Additionally, the agency has offered the country’s first all-gender cabin option to children who identify as non-binary, retrofitted the campsite with ADA-compliant facilities and invested in mental health support. 

While Tawonga hires licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW), Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT) and Inclusion Specialists to work with campers and staff during the summer sessions, they significantly  expanded their mental health services this past summer. After a year of social isolation, screen fatigue and the cancellation of Tawonga’s 2020 season, the need for more mental health resources was pressing. One Tawonga director notes, “This summer, especially, kids and counselors came to Camp with so many issues. When you hold a community like that, you need to be prepared with the right resources in place.” 

Tawonga’s new Teen Village will provide a dedicated space on the Tuolumne County campsite for their teens. This new area will provide opportunities for curated programming and community building away from the younger campers. The ability to cultivate tight-knit relationships will strengthen their sense of belonging that is so critical at this stage of life.  

L.L. Foundation for Youth is proud to support Camp Tawonga’s leadership in JEDI and mental health work.

“I have been attending Camp Tawonga each summer as a camper since I was 8 years old. I am now 16, and I recently completed my final session as a camper. For me, Tawonga is a sanctuary that provides some escape from the stress of the real world. At Tawonga, there is no pressure to turn in assignments on time or keep up with social trends. Everyone is free to be themselves, without fear of judgement…Not having camp to return to last summer was hard, and coming back in the summer of 2021 was very healing. I’ve been home for almost a week now, and I miss camp so much already. I am confident that the friendships I made will last my lifetime and I will be a part of the Tawonga community forever.”

-Solly Lezin-Schmidt, Camp Tawonga Camper