Jõekääre maailmas on palju
ühtainust neist meeles ma pean.
Üht linnust, üht looklevat rada
Jõekäärul ma looklemas tean.
Last weekend, from Friday June 8 until Sunday June 10, was Jõekääru laste suvekodu’s first Alumni Laager (JKAL). Led by a team of three former campers, Anneliis Põldre, Paul Lillakas, and Kristina Kald, the weekend served as a fantastic synthesis of “Homecoming Weekend” and “Camp Without Kids.” Over the course of two-and-a-half days, there was no shortage of programming, laughter, and nostalgia, as alumni ranging in age from their twenties to their seventies took part in everything from hommikuvõimlemine (morning calisthenics) to pidulik õhtusöök (formal dinner).
JKAL served an additional purpose as well – to raise funds for Jõekääru Children’s Camp. While the Jõekääru Kalev Volleyball Camp and Jõekääru’s Board of Directors (JSS) have both held fundraising parties in Toronto to support the camp, not since JK Jazz has there been a large-scale fundraiser on camp premises.
“I wanted to run a JK Alumni Laager to bring people back to the place that holds so many memories,” said Anneliis Põldre. “Also, I wanted JKAL to be a way to reinvigorate the Jõekääru Community, and to fundraise to keep the campers coming for years to come.”
The initiative was conceived many years ago, when the co-organizers identified a major gap between a child’s final year of camp and the first year they bring their own children to Jõekääru, as parents. There is no stronger pull back to Jõekääru than inviting alumni to re-live their camp experience, so the organizing team set forth pitching the camp’s Board of Directors on the idea. A well-organized plan, buoyed by on-site support of both JSS as well as a team of very supportive alumni, was constructed – everything from marketing to registration logistics, and from program scheduling to staffing – so that not one detail was overlooked.
Põldre, Lillakas and Kald were able to bring their concept to life thanks to their many years of experience as campers and staff. Compounding this was their open-minded approach of consulting fellow alumni regarding what was near and dear to them from their time as campers. The end result overwhelmingly exceeded everyone’s expectations, including the organizers.
“It was so heartwarming to see a wide range of Jõekääru alumni from different generations bond and share their stories and experiences at camp with each other,” said Kristina Kald. “Even though camp traditions and leadership evolve naturally over the years, true love for Jõekääru is the constant that ties us all together as JK Alumni.”
Alumni from all across Ontario, as well as Montreal, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Wisconsin made the pilgrimage back to their beloved Suvekodu. In addition, many alumni brought along JK rookies – their spouses, partners and friends – who wanted to see “the JK magic” with their own eyes.
Camp started immediately following Friday afternoon’s registration and dinner, prepared by peakokk (head chef) Jüri Kimsto. From an opening lõke featuring many classic camp tunes and campfire skits, to an öömäng (night game) spanning practically the entire camp grounds, it took little time for alumni to feel like campers again.
Saturday began with a feeble attempt at hommikuvõimlemine – considering that alumni (including the author) admitted to not being as spry in the morning as they once were. Morning exercises were the only portion of the weekend where participants gave anything less than their best effort. Morning classes began in earnest, with juhataja (director) Raimo Heyduck ensuring smooth camp operations. After lipurivi (flag raising) and breakfast, alumni were able to sign up for their favourite classes. Rahvatants (folk dancing), kunst (art), kokakunst (cooking), sport, and drama were all led by former camp instructors. A relaxing vabaujumine (free swim) was also offered to those who were looking to cool off from an intense morning of learning.
Puhketund (rest time), a staple of Estonian camps, was perhaps most enthusiastically received by the alumni, as it offered an opportunity to reconnect with familiar faces and make acquaintances with new ones. Saun offered a chance for people to clean up and get ready for a delicious feast prepared by Paul Lillakas and Kristina Kald, with the help of their köögiabilised (kitchen helpers), a group of seasoned veterans gladly reprising their roles.
At the conclusion of dinner, campers migrated to the suur saal (great hall) for a spirited night (and subsequent morning) of dancing. Classic songs across multiple generations were compiled into one cross-generational playlist, serving as yet another bridge between generations old and young. The playlist can even be found online, an unexpected gift for those wishing to recreate the weekend.
Sunday morning offered one last dose of fun activities. While people packed up their belongings, the sadness of once again having to leave camp was muted by the insurmountable overflow of happy memories and new friendships.
“It was so moving. A million laughs, a few tears of joy and an overwhelming and joyous sense of community struck me,” said Paul Lillakas. “I’m most looking forward to welcoming all of the same faces back and a host of their friends who couldn’t make it this time. We’ll be back, bigger and better!”
A week’s worth of programming jam-packed into one weekend! A return to camp, to add more chapters to each camper’s story! A renewed bond between campers and camp! And funds raised for future generations! While the world outside of camp may be full of discord and strife, JK alumni were able to put it all behind them for an unforgettable weekend.
A big thank you once again to the organizing committee of Anneliis Põldre, Paul Lillakas, and Kristina Kald, as well as to all volunteers who gladly played their part in creating an unforgettable experience. Elagu noorus, elagu Jõekääru!
Kuid kaugel veeväljade taga
üks rannik mind meelitab ka.
Need paigad siin jätan siis maha
kui kutsub mind isade maa.
Mihkel Kütti, Toronto