Brothers weave crafty idea to raise funds for Camp Tawonga

Benjamin and Tobey Miner, ages 10 and 8, respectively, are used to hearing the words tikkun olam. As students at Foster City’s Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School, they know it is their responsibility to help “repair the world.”

So last month, after hearing that their beloved Camp Tawonga needed help, the brothers got a bit more hands-on in their repair work. Building With Bands is a project the Miners launched just after the High Holy Days, to raise money to help the Jewish sleepover camp make necessary repairs caused by the huge Rim Fire near Yosemite in August.

By making and selling colorful woven rubber-band bracelets after school, during lunchtime and on weekends, the boys raised about $1,000 in just three weeks.

Benjamin (left) and Tobey Miner with their rubber-band bracelets.

“We were in synagogue for Yom Kippur, and I started thinking about ways to be a better person this year,” explained Benjamin, a fifth-grader who has attended Tawonga for the past three summers. (Tobey, in the third grade, has attended Tawonga for the last two).

“We were both really sad when Camp Tawonga got damaged in the fire,” said Benjamin, “and we thought, ‘What can we do?’ ”

The boys have been custom-making the bracelets to order, and selling them for $3 for one or $5 for two; 100 percent of the proceeds will go to Camp Tawonga. After Benjamin made an announcement at a Havdallah ceremony at school and Tawonga posted an announcement about the project on its Facebook page, the brothers started receiving an avalanche of orders — “from people we didn’t even know!” Benjamin added.

Katie Quinn, assistant director of Camp Tawonga, said she and other staffers were “incredibly touched” by the boys’ efforts.

“We’re so grateful, and we really want to thank Tobey and Benjamin. I think what they’re doing shows how much they care, how much they love Tawonga, how supportive this community is,” she said. “There’s a lot of work to be done, and we feel lucky that we have a lot of community members stepping up to help.”

The Rim Fire, which began Aug. 17 in Stanislaus County just west of Yosemite, swept through Groveland, the town nearest Tawonga, and eventually through the camp itself. When the fire began, there were no campers on site (the previous session had ended Aug. 13), and Tawonga staff evacuated soon thereafter. In an Aug. 29 email to families, staff and alumni, Tawonga’s executive director Ken Kramarz and camp director Jamie Simon-Harris announced that the camp had lost three staff buildings.  

Quinn said it is too early to put a number on how much repairs will cost, but the staff’s priority is getting camp into working shape for next year, she said, with a focus on rebuilding the camp’s challenge course — which was also gutted in the fire. The three buildings that burned housed 15 summer staff beds and some guest housing, all of which will need to be replaced.

As of the first week of October, Quinn said the camp was in the initial stages of assessment and cleaning, including smoke remediation, removal of fire retardant from buildings, repainting, and replacing a water irrigation system lost in the fire.

Other projects, such as reforestation, will obviously be a several-year process, she said, but camp staff members don’t expect that to hinder the overall camp experience. “When it comes to things that impact our program, we’re absolutely committed to rebuilding for summer 2014,” she said.

The “donate” button on Tawonga’s website (www.tawonga.org) allows individuals to contribute to repairs, and Quinn said staff is happy to hear from anyone who wants to get involved — bracelet-making skills or none.

To get in touch with Benjamin and Tobey Miner, email buildingwithbands@gmail.com.

Emma Silvers

Emma Silvers is a former J. staff writer.