SALEM, Ore. - Dating back five full decades, "Camp Rosenbaum" has been held at the Camp Rilea Armed Forces Training Center outside of Warrenton, Oregon, alongside the Pacific coastline. The youth citizenship camp is a unique yearly midsummer rite of passage for low-income children from Oregon and Southwest Washington.
The camp is a stimulating weeklong experience for boys and girls ages 9-12 whose parents live in housing authority properties or participate in the Section 8 rent assistance program. Camp Rosenbaum 2020, originally scheduled from July 19 through July 24, was planning to celebrate a special 50th anniversary until the novel coronavirus forced the cancellation of this year's occasion.
The decision was difficult, but due to the state's social distancing guidelines, it allowed the camp's leadership team to generate an alternative to having nearly 180 children attending in person. With the desire to still reach out to kids in the community, OPERATION LEMONADE was launched to extend to a broader spectrum of children.
Crystal Kroeller, who has been a Camp Rosenbaum counselor and now serves as the Project Manager for the organization, sparked the idea of creating "Camp Rosenbaum-in-a-Bag." She presented the concept to Brig. Gen. (ret.) Bruce Prunk who helped bring the idea to the Camp Rosenbaum board of directors and other leaders within the organization.
"It's like the slogan of 'When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade:' we wanted to find a way to deliver a form of the camp experience," she said.
With a goal to produce 1,000 Camp Rosenbaum backpacks, Operation Lemonade was generated to give each camper 'a taste of the camp experience.' The pack includes an activity schedule and fun activity guide, with interesting items like foam footballs, books, journals, science experiments, arts & crafts, a personal care kit and other memorabilia.
"We were able to reach 1,000 kids instead of just the annual amount of 170 or so that come to camp each summer in person," said Kroeller. "We wanted to find a creative way to keep the spirit of camp going through the pandemic strains."
Four sites were set up around the Portland area to connect with the kids and distribute backpacks for the families receiving assistance from Home Forward.
At one of those locations, Tamarack Apartments in North Portland is home to many of the children who attend camp each year. The 120-unit complex is one of many Home Forward rental assistance properties that Camp Rosenbaum serves.
"Home Forward, who serves Multnomah County, got 427 of the backpacks to kids that registered for them," said Leslie Crehan, Senior Project Manager for Home Forward. "It's the second weekend to hand these out and it's the 'bookends' of when the camp was going to be held this year."
The partnership between Home Forward, the Oregon National Guard, and the Portland Police Bureau and fire agencies shape Camp Rosenbaum into a distinct experience, built on fostering good citizenship traits and providing these kids with role models and healthy relationships with public safety figures.
"There also have been videos online so that the kids' can check-in on daily activities created by our staff and volunteers that attend camp every year," she said.
The activities and daily planned out events allow kids to have fun at their own pace or even with another family member sharing into the activity. Crehan noted that if backpacks weren't picked up in person, they would be delivered during the last week of July.
"The coronavirus has made everything difficult in our daily lives, to include having our annual summer camp," said Oregon Air National Guard Lt. Col. Connie Opsal, serving in her second year as Camp Rosenbaum Director. "This pause allows us to look at many aspects of our lives and ensure that our campers can feel included even if we cannot be together."
Opsal said that the backpack program would allow Camp Rosenbaum to serve more than double the number of kids attending the traditional overnight camp.
"These kids come from different places, but we look at this 'Camp in a Bag' program as a way to reach more kids," she explained, noting that they can still attend camp in person after the pandemic.
For the staff, the use of social media to connect to each other and the kids have been important to Operation Lemonade. The YouTube channel is another way to connect to the kids and be revisited and updated even after the "week of camp" is completed.
"It's good for the campers and there is a lot of great stuff that people have created for kids being at home for the summer," Misty Gremaud, a Camp Rosenbaum group leader, as she and other staff gathered at the Tamarack Apartments for kids to arrive.
"Amazingly, Operation Lemonade was conceived and brought to fruition, that we're doing the best we can with the constraints we have going on globally right now," said Gremaud.
In many ways, this goes to the camp's foundation, which began in 1970 when Oregon Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Fred Rosenbaum, a holocaust survivor himself, helped initiate the first youth camp for disadvantaged kids.
"In essence, Fred planted this tree in spirit over 50 years ago. The camp is not so much a thing or a place but an idea," said Jonathan Dyer, who leads Camp Rosenbaum's science program and has been an active volunteer for over 20 years.
These 'Good Citizenship' concepts are still relevant today, said Dyer. "We will be here for the kids when they need us; it's an unbroken chain of adults looking out for kids in our community."