Finding a Way to Say Goodbye

Camp Tawonga is incredibly fortunate to have had Ryley Katz on our year-round team for the last nine years, leading our community engagement efforts with tremendous competence and a full heart. The agency is in a stronger place now as a direct result of Ryley. To share some highlights from Ryley’s tenure: She revamped our Ruach Ride program to be a Tawonga-style warm and engaging opportunity for kids and families; she implemented our New Family Orientations to provide an excellent introduction to Tawonga; she led the integration of a new and improved database designed specifically to interface with families; she managed the redesign of our website to be more interactive and user-friendly; and finally, throughout, she has nurtured relationships with families to ensure a positive experience with us. While her shoes are very hard to fill, we are pleased that a member of our year-round team who has worked closely with Ryley will be stepping into this role with confidence. It is an understatement to say that we will miss Ryley in the office, but we know she will stay closely connected. 

On behalf of the year-round team and the many families you’ve touched – thank you Ryley, and we love you,
– Jamie Simon-Harris

After nearly a decade of being a part of the full-time Tawonga team, it’s time for me to say goodbye. Leaving Tawonga is bittersweet – working here is a dream come true and an amazing experience each and every day. However, as my three little girls grow up before my eyes, I feel now that I need to be with them on a more regular basis.


I’ll never forget the moment during my first year on Camp Tawonga’s summer staff when a member of the senior leadership team said to me, “You’re a Tawonga lifer. I see it in you.” How true that statement was. My first time setting foot on Tawonga’s property was the summer of 1993. My parents put me on the bus to camp for the first time, sight unseen. I boarded the bus without a friend and looked out the window to see my dad giving me a thumbs up and my mom fighting back tears as she gave a brave wave.


I boarded the bus to camp for the next four subsequent summers as a camper and another four throughout college as a summer staff member. Tawonga shaped me in more ways than I can count. I had many firsts there – first backpacking trip, first time I felt connected to Judaism, first kiss. I developed deep, lasting friendships while up in the Sierras. I moved to the Bay Area after college because that’s where my camp friends lived. I joined Jdate (where I met my husband 10 years ago) because of the Jewish identity I formulated at Tawonga. One choice, one decision – Tawonga – has shaped so much of who I have become.


Fast forward to the past nine years. As a member of Tawonga’s full-time team I’ve had the privilege of comforting parents and shepherding them through the process of sending their kids to camp. While my colleagues take care of the kids up at camp, I take care of their parents, helping them through emotions they hadn’t anticipated and giving them the opportunity to experience the same freedoms and separation their kids are having (without the gaga and arts & crafts). I truly love my job and love taking care of our community in its most vulnerable moments.


Years ago, there was a mom standing in the parking lot after the buses pulled away – crying and overwhelmed with emotion. I introduced myself, promised her I’d check in on her kids, and gave her a hug. That hug became a tradition, and from the tradition emerged a friendship. It is moments like that one that reflect so much of the joy I’ve found in my role at camp.


It is because of my role and because of these moments that I find comfort in leaving my post as the parent liaison at Tawonga to go take care of my own kids. Tawonga and the hundreds of parents I’ve interacted with over the years has shown me what kind of mom I want to be.


In just a few short years, my oldest daughter will be boarding the bus to camp for the first time. I have no doubt that I’ll shed a few tears in the parking lot, and I take comfort in knowing that someone from Tawonga will be there to reassure me as I have done for parents over the course of my career here. The full-time staff at Tawonga is an incredible team, and I feel so lucky to have been a part of it. I have full confidence that this amazing group, including my successor, will continue to provide amazing care and customer service for our community.


Meeting so many parents and becoming entrenched in the Tawonga community has been a gift and will no doubt shape the kind of parent I am and will become. This isn’t really a goodbye. It’s more of a “see you later,” or maybe “see you from a different perspective.”


When I sing my kids to sleep at night with the same songs my counselors sang to me, that’s Tawonga. When I let my daughters explore their independence, even though I so badly want to hold them tight and protect them in every moment, that’s Tawonga. When I light the Shabbat candles, count the shooting stars, and make choices like this one that really forces me to be true to and confident in myself, that’s Tawonga. This place, these people, everything that Tawonga is and everyone I’ve met as a result of it, will forever hold a special place in my heart. Tawonga is more than just a camp – it’s a community, a home, and a way of life – and I know it will be a part of my family and me for years to come.


My last day in this role will be October 9. I’d love to hear from you before I go – feel free to reach out: / (415) 852-4214.