About 50 people gathered at Camp Solomon Schechter in Tumwater on Sunday to celebrate the next chapter of the longtime Jewish summer camp — a chapter that will bring needed infrastructure and new buildings to the 180-acre site.
And once the speeches, the thank-yous and the singing were complete, camp officials and Tumwater Mayor Pete Kmet, grabbed some shovels and symbolically turned some dirt.
“This is a moment I’ve dreamed of,” said executive director Sam Perlin, one of several speakers, including summer camp youths, who talked about what the camp has meant to them and what it will mean to the next generation of users.
The camp has raised $6 million of a $12 million goal to pay for the construction, but by next summer they expect to have the full amount to complete the second phase of upgrades.
Once this summer camp season is over, they will begin work on the first phase, which will bring sewer and natural gas lines and technology upgrades to the camp, Perlin said.
In fall 2017, work will begin on four new buildings, including a dining hall and sports facility. The current dining facility prepares 1,000 kosher meals a day, he said.
The camp dates to 1954 on Whidbey Island and then moved to the Tumwater area in 1968 when some property became available to purchase. About 500 to 600 children and teens use the camp over the summer. About 300 use it at a time, Perlin said.
There aren’t many Jews in the Northwest, compared with on the East Coast, so the camp gives Jewish youths from the region a chance to “broaden their Jewish identity,” he said.
Although based in the Northwest, the camp does attract youths from throughout the country and other countries, including Canada. It is open to other faiths, Perlin said, but the learning program at the camp is about Judaism.
Summer camp tuition covers about 75 percent of its operating expenses, so the camp is rented out in the off-season to other schools and religious groups. They also operate the Osprey camp program, which gives inner city youths a chance to study the environment. The camp is home to wetlands, a kettle bog and the glacially formed Lake Stampfer.
“The work will transform this jewel into a greater community asset,” Mayor Kmet said of the upcoming projects.