This piece is part of a collection of stories profiling local camp alternatives for summer 2020. Read about Therapyology Camp, Camp-in-a-Box and Camp Fox.
Moms (and dads!) post their daily outings and trips with their families, which takes, as the Camp Mom Michigan’s description says, “the guesswork out of figuring out your summer plans.”
It’s a typical day in the new normal that is summer 2020. Parents want their kids to have fun and get outdoors, all while staying safe, social distancing and wearing masks.
That can be a tall order, but there’s a new, highly active Facebook page that helps hundreds of local parents make it possible: Camp Mom Michigan.
Back in March, Shirli Gotlib of Southfield realized she’d be on her own with her kids as schools closed; her husband, Ari, is an ER doctor at McLaren Oakland Hospital in Pontiac. Gotlib was determined her four kids — Max, 10, Alex, 8, Sophia, 8, and Jacob, 4 — would not be indoors and watching TV all day, even though, she said, “I knew they’d be perfectly happy with that.” She attempted an at-home schedule, which she quickly discovered was unrealistic.
Gotlib, who moved here from her hometown of Memphis in 2009, was not intimately familiar with the area and turned to technology for help. She downloaded the AllTrails app, which allows users to find and track their own hikes, and stayed up late every night, searching on Facebook for recommendations, Googling places to work out if they were appropriate for her kids for the next day’s outdoor activity.
Whenever she was on social-distancing hikes with her kids early in the pandemic, Gotlib would post pictures on Instagram Stories. Immediately her friends started messaging her questions. “They’d write, ‘Where are you? How much does it cost? What’s the parking like?’ I started tagging the location and posting answers to those questions with the pictures,” Gotlib said. “I figured, we’re all in the same boat — why keep this information to myself?”
One of those friends was Naomi Gardin, also of Southfield, who became an ardent follower of Gotlib’s Instagram posts. She even created a list on her phone of places she too wanted to visit with her family.
“It became a joke,” Gardin said. “Whatever Shirli did one Sunday, I’d do the following Sunday.”
Gardin tried downloading the AllTrails app Gotlib recommended but found it too complicated, and the hundreds of reviews too overwhelming. “It was much easier for me to follow in the steps of someone I know and trust,” Gardin said.
As June approached, Gardin realized the hours of distance learning would be ending, and knew she’d be entertaining her four kids between the ages of 7 and 14 for the next eight weeks. The idea was extremely intimidating.
Gardin, who moved here from Canada five years ago, saw how much she’d benefited from Gotlib’s posts and had an idea. “I messaged Shirli, saying we should start a page about successful activities local parents can do with their kids.”
On June 15, they created a Facebook page, shared it on their shul’s WhatsApp page — both attend Young Israel of Southfield — and many members joined immediately. Word quickly spread and, within two weeks, the group had over 500 members. Within one month, it had 800 members.
Moms (and dads!) post their daily outings and trips with their families, which takes, as the group’s description says, “the guesswork out of figuring out your summer plans.”
Posters are encouraged to include the ages of kids the activity was successful for, distance, cost and what pandemic precautions are in place, like social distancing, mask wearing and regular sanitizing of equipment.
Shayna Goldner of Oak Park, mother of Dovid, 7, and Eva, 7 months, said, “This group saved our summer. I love all the pre-tested ideas to make our trips go smoothly, especially with a tiny baby aboard for the ride. Now I get to be a fun mom with half the work!”
Goldner grew up in Michigan and even she didn’t know about some of the places that parents posted on the Facebook page. Some new places she explored with her family were St Clair Metro Park and the Port Huron Lighthouse.
Jenny Schwartz of West Bloomfield joined the page when overnight camp was canceled for her kids, Eli, 13, Jonah, 10 and Kayla, 8. Though her kids were disappointed, with the help of the ideas from Camp Mom Michigan, they’re still having a fun summer.
“Thanks to the group, we’ve been to Dodge #4 State Park, which I never knew existed, even though it’s only 15 minutes from our house! We went fishing at Spring Valley Trout Farm, which was fun, and then we ate the fish we caught for Shabbat dinner,” Schwartz said.
Not every day brings great outdoor weather, so Camp Mom Michigan also has ideas from parents for easy, affordable and fun at-home crafts and projects. Schwartz tie-dyed T-shirts with her kids after being inspired by a tie-dying-made-easy post by Gardin.
Hunny Khodorkovsky of Southfield is naturally crafty and has posted a few of the craft projects she’s done with her kids, Alexander, 12, Olivia, 9, Alliyah, 8, and Judah, 6. During one forest hike, her kids bought axes, chopped down branches, shaved the bark and varnished, stained and sandpapered them to create their own impressive hiking sticks.
Her friend, Joey Roberts, who was widowed over three years ago, got two therapy dogs when his wife was sick with cancer, and he always brings them over to play with the Khodorkovsky kids. Roberts is also a fourth-generation furrier (retailer of furs) who does woodworking, and he started giving the family craft ideas and helping them with different fun projects, which Khodorkovsky in turn shares with the group. With his help, the Khodorkovsky kids have made fur keychains and are working on a fur bomber jacket for their mom, as well as fur scarves and earmuffs.
Khodorkovsky has also been visiting new locations with her kids. Water Warrior Island in Lake Orion, a floating island on a lake, was a huge hit with her family. “Every day is a new adventure, thanks to this page,” Khodorkovsky said.
As admins, Gotlib and Gardin constantly receive positive feedback and messages about how the page alleviated so much anxiety for what could have been a stressful summer. “We’re just giving each other tips and ideas; that’s all,” Gotlib said. “The main point is to get through this together.”
Camp Mom Michigan has even managed to unearth a small silver lining in the midst of the pandemic. Gotlib said, “Michigan is such a beautiful state with so many magnificent places to hike and explore that were in our backyard all along, but it took a pandemic to make us go out and find them.”
Gardin, too, has been enjoying this unique opportunity with her kids and hopes they’ll have many positive memories. At the very least, the 3,000+ pictures she’s taken in the last few months of their hikes and day trips should help them remember the good times.
“My parents have been begging me to come back to Canada, but I keep telling them that we are managing just fine,” Gardin said. “I never realized how beautiful Michigan is and wouldn’t have had the opportunity to explore it the way I have been otherwise. A different summer than we had planned, but a special one nonetheless.”