Reflections on BaMidbar’s Inaugural Season

Dear BaMidbar Community,

18 weeks ago, BaMidbar’s first students arrived at the Ramah in the Rockies ranch, and just one week ago, the last students of our inaugural season graduated. Over the last five months, students and staff embarked on a journey of self-discovery, as we created together the nation’s first Jewish wilderness therapy program. It’s hard to fully express the awe I feel for what we accomplished, the gratitude I have for students and staff alike, and potential I see as we prepare for year round, full-time programming beginning next fall. As Ramah in the Rockies’ camp session kicks into gear, BaMidbar staff will take the next few months to refine and revise programming.

On October 15th, 2018, BaMidbar will officially reopen with year round programming.

While there is so much to share about our season, it is impossible to capture everything in a single email. Rather than try to capture all that transpired over the last five months, I will instead share some of the highlights of the season.

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Passion for Jewish Learning and Practice: BaMidbar set out to create the nation’s first Jewish wilderness therapy program – not just a program that serves kosher food, or a program that observes Shabbat, but a place where ever aspect of programming can be infused with Jewish values, learning, and tradition. BaMidbar succeed in creating an incredibly open, inclusive environment that invited but did not demand interaction and engagement with Jewish learning. Judaism was integrated in a way that made it relevant and tangible to students successes and challenges, and provided a broader framework for them to explore some of the deepest aspects of the human condition: relationships, depression, anxiety, purpose and meaning, teshuvah, personal growth and positive change, grief and loss, giving back, and more. Undoubtedly, student’s willing, open, and passionate engagement with Jewish tradition was one of the strongest pieces of our program.

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Student growth: Students’ growth from the beginning to the end of their experience was profound. They developed awareness of their patterns and how their emotional response to a given situation connects to their behavior. They built skills to deal with anxiety, developed relapse prevention plans, and improved communication with their families. They developed mindfulness practices, and identified the supports and structures they need to continue on a positive path as they graduate from the program. BaMidbar is still working on outcome assessment tools, and will be compiling data from our first season. We will be sending follow up surveys at the 3 month, 6 month, and 1 year marks after a student’s graduation, to measure continued progress after BaMidbar.

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Safety: BaMidbar ran an incredibly safe program this season. Staff attested to the strong culture of emotional and physical safety and the support structures and training that ensured safety was a priority on a daily basis. With students and staff, BaMidbar had zero injuries and only one incident of illness (bronchitis) over our five-month season.

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Staff retention: All of BaMidbar’s clinical and office staff are returning next year, and almost all of our field staff are returning as well. In an industry with notoriously high turnover and with a four month break in programming, this is an incredibly strong testament to what we have created. Staff communicated that they felt very supported, that we had strong structures for communication and feedback. During our end of season debrief, one staff member communicated, “I don’t think there are many workplaces where our level of care and communications exists.”

While we had an incredible first season, there is much to refine and improve as we prepare to reopen next fall. Coming into this first season, we knew that student transition planning would be both challenging, and incredibly important to our student’s long-term success. In our first season, BaMidbar supported student transition planning during the program, and is providing six weeks of transition support via weekly phone calls after graduation. This process is one we will continue to improve to meet the needs of our community. In addition to continued development of our transition planning process, we will spending the summer months refining curriculum, developing a family webinar series, beginning the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Accreditation process and applying for membership through the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council, among other things.

In Conclusion

It has been such an incredible experience to see this program come into being and take shape. What we have created is truly unique, in wilderness therapy, Jewish community programming, and the Jewish camping world. While I know we have much to learn, I know from the growth of our students, passion of our staff, and strength of the community support that something very special has taken root here, and that we are only in the very beginnings of what will be a long, beautiful, challenging, and rewarding journey. I cannot fully express my gratitude for the BaMidbar and Ramah team, our board and dedicated supporters, and the families and young adults who have taken this leap of faith, to trust in a new program.

Thank you all for making this program possible!

Jory Hanselman, Director