In our second of this month’s interviews, Counselor-In-Residence Joanne Ruffa talks about recent JL developments and the changes she’s seen over 10 years with the program.
Alumni Council Member: You’ve been involved with JL for 15 years now! What are some ways in which you’ve seen the program grow and evolve?
Miss Ruffa: First off – the growth; we had the largest class of new climbers – 23 of them – last summer and the most RAs we’ve ever had. We’re finding that we’re getting more applicants than we have space. The need is there. Also we’re seeing more participation by former climbers coming back as RAs. And, I think the professionalism of our staff has grown. We can trust the people on-board to do the work they were hired to do. We’ve intensified our performing arts program too. It’s more of an integral part of JL. We’ve done several musicals, and these have given climbers an outlet for their creative talents.
ACM: What’s new for camp this summer? What are you particularly excited about? Any new challenges?
R: There will be a big focus on celebrating the 25th anniversary. And the new camp venue – this is the first time we’ll be on a college campus. With that comes a suite-style dorm set-up, which makes some new opportunities for independence and responsibility for the climbers. There’s state-of-the-art classrooms; the playing fields are gorgeous. We’re going to miss the river and the mountains from our past locations, but the feel…that the new spot, Richard Bland College, is excited to have us….it’s nice to feel wanted!
With the 25th anniversary, Mr. Hall is seeing more need to transition to new leadership…to put certain leadership responsibilities in the hands of others. It’s a banner year for the program and the camp.
ACM: JL’s advocacy program consists, in part, of you doing school visits with current climbers, and you’ve done that for over a decade now. Talk a bit about how the advocacy program works and its purpose. What are some of your observations looking back on 10-plus years of visits?
R: The advocacy program is continuing to evolve in a positive way, and it’s where I spend a lot of time. This past fall and winter in my school visits, I’ve seen and heard more positive feedback from teachers and staff about our climbers – some transformative stories. It was more obvious to me than ever the carryover from what we’re doing at camp impacting what then goes on at school. And, this is an exciting time of year because we’re hearing about college acceptances. I had a call yesterday from a senior. He found out that he got a full financial aid package to some of his top college picks. So, he’s floating right now – off the ground!
You know, as a metaphor, if you have a wooden ladder and the bottom rung is rotten – then there’s a big space to fill there. But we have a strong foundation at the bottom of our Ladder with past alumni. I didn’t get involved with JL until its 10th year, but I found my first summer that JL was already a place that changed lives. It’s exciting for us at JL to hear alumni news – weddings and get-togethers, jobs and careers – all of it!