(Published April 26, 2021)
To understand just how at home the Erdel kids feel at the J, one only had to watch them as they arrived at the Sablosky Pavilion, the location for the (masked and socially distanced) interview and photo shoot to prep this piece. Audrey (9) and Evan (7) immediately ran over to picnic tables their Summer Care groups painted last year to search for their names – Evan’s had faded away in the elements, but Audrey’s was still bright blue under depictions of French fries and pizza she had made (her group’s theme for their table was junk food). Then, when told the first set of photos would be on the playground’s geodesic dome, they clambered to the top in a matter of seconds, with younger brother Archie (5, in his last year of the J’s Early Childhood Education [ECE] program) just behind them, clamoring to climb the “spiderweb,” as he called it, alongside his siblings.
The Erdels have been coming to the J for nearly a decade now, starting when Audrey was a 12-week-old baby in ECE’s Infants room and moving into CampJCC as she and her brothers aged out of preschool. At first, having one or two kids in camp at the same place where the others were in ECE was convenient, but even this summer when that won’t be the case, “it’s a continuation of all the things we liked about ECE,” mom Kate said. “It’s a community we’re already involved in and familiar with. We’ll see old friends from the ECE who the kids will be able to reconnect with. And we’ve always just felt like it’s a really good program. The counselors are excellent, the activities are great. They continue to get that kind of faith component that we always enjoyed about being at the JCC just generally.”
CampJCC ↔ Summer Care
Even amidst the chaos of 2020, the J provided a safe haven for Audrey and Evan through the Summer Care program that temporarily replaced CampJCC (Archie, still attending ECE, wasn’t old enough yet). “I know it was different as far as the daily schedule and what they could do, but to us it didn’t seem all that different,” dad Blake said. “It was still enjoyable for the kids. It seemed like within what they were able to do, they still found ways to have fun and make the most of it. What everyone has had to do in these COVID times is improvise, so we were happy they were able to still have the program and make it fun for the kids, given everything else that was going on.”
“I think they almost in some ways enjoyed it more,” Kate added. “I think the counselors and directors, because it was so challenging, really doubled down and invigorated [the program] with new ideas because they had to be more creative, because they couldn’t do some of the same things they’d done in the past. I think [Audrey and Evan] got closer to their groups, and their counselors were really invested in making sure the kids had a great summer. [The kids] got a lot out of it, especially after having been home for three months. Being able to come back to the JCC where they were familiar with the place and saw a lot of familiar faces, it was a really important summer for them, to have some normalcy. I think the JCC did a really great job of making that happen.”
Something for Everyone
This summer, Evan is looking forward to swimming at the J’s Eskenazi Water Park, and Audrey appreciates that the J offers specialty camps alongside traditional day camp (she’ll be doing tennis camp and equestrian camp this year), so she can see old friends while trying something new. A similar transition is taking place for Archie: Before he starts kindergarten at a new school, he’ll have a last hurrah with his friends from preschool while getting used to a different routine, so the change coming in the fall isn’t so drastic. “A longer day but in a familiar setting gives a nice adjustment period to get out of that pre-K, taking naps schedule,” Blake said. “Packing lunch, wearing a backpack – Archie sees this as graduating to being a big kid.”
As the years have gone on, the Erdels have gotten even more involved at the J, with Blake and Kate coaching their kids’ soccer and basketball teams beginning in 2016 and eventually being honored for it as JCC Volunteers of the Year in 2019. “We enjoy doing it, and it’s a way to be involved with the kids, get them involved, meet new people,” Blake said. “In normal times, there’s all kinds of ways to be involved, so it’s nice that no matter what your interests are, there are definitely ways to volunteer, take a step in and help out.”
“It’s Been 10 Years?!”
Kate couldn’t help but reflect on what the past ten years at the J have meant for the Erdel family. “Every day I walk Archie in and think, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s only a few more days of walking into this door!’ It’s been 10 years of doing this with one kid or another. A decade, literally, of driving over here every day and bringing the kids inside.
[I think about] Miss Amy, the Infant teacher in ECE, [who] started right before we started bringing Audrey here, so she was the first adult other than our family who we entrusted a child to. She helped us become better parents, saying ‘Now we’re ready for food!’ and sending us pictures of Audrey crawling for the first time. Now when she sees Audrey, who’s almost as tall as I am, it’s almost the same feeling for her of ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe it. Wow, it’s been 10 years of this.’
It’s bittersweet but kind of lovely to connect with people like that. I’m grateful because it helps me to remember how far we’ve come with our kids. [That just shows] how good the people are here. We’ll keep coming as long as they let us!”