One of the things I love the most about being a camp industry professional is that it’s such a collaboratively-minded industry. In the best of times camp pros always want to share ideas, troubleshoot challenges, brainstorm together, inspire each other, and work to make what we ALL do that much better.
We learn from one another at camp conferences and in online forums and we do it both seriously and with the spirit of fun that’s innate to the summer camp world.
So I just have to give a shout out today in my blog to my fellow camp professionals — whether I know them personally or am acquainted tangentially through the industry — because those longtime relationships and connections, which were always invaluable, are now a lifeline like nothing else when it comes to trying to plan for camp in the time of COVID-19.
The Future of Camps
You may have noticed that, unlike a lot of other industries, many summer camps haven’t yet made a call on shutting down for the summer.
Most camps ONLY operate during the summer, and already face scheduling encroachment by lengthened academic school calendars that push later and later into June and open earlier and earlier in August.
In essence, our livelihoods and lifeblood feel like they’re constantly under threat, forcing us to change schedules and tighten our program more and more each year. (And this is to say nothing about the fact that our unwavering pedagogical platform is that in an age of too many screens, too much structure, too much pressure, and a near total absence of nature, that camp is needed now more than ever!)
So as you can imagine, the COVID-19 threat feels like another incursion into the already threatened camp world. Thus if it’s at all possible from a public health and safety perspective for camps to be open this summer, the camp industry is eager to preserve its small window of operations for itself, for its many dependent employees, and of course, for the families who treasure camp and the kids who love it and need it!
That’s why it’s been an immense comfort to have all kinds of colleagues, friends, and acquaintances in the industry to turn to for mutual support in these unusual times.
Even more than is customary, camp pros have been finding ways to virtually get together with one another. Online we’ve commiserated and strategized; we’ve looked at unique health and wellness issues in the camp world that already existed and how to strengthen our responses going forward; we’ve shared communication, outreach, and virtual connection ideas for our families and campers and staff; and we’ve really supported each other as we adapt and craft any possible Plan B’s for the summer.
Most of all we’ve hoped and prayed with one another that it won’t come to that. But because it might we just keep getting together to plan for any and all eventualities, and to keep each other morally boosted and our industry strong.
For me this has meant weekly Zoom calls with some camp directors in Virginia and West Virginia along with another one for a group of us in just West Virginia. (see pics above)
I’ve also been on a weekly call with what I call my “Mastermind Group,” which is my group of four camp industry pros/associates/friends from around the country who’ve been meeting monthly for years now. We’ve ramped it up to weekly during this strange time and it’s been a godsend for me.
And then of course I’m in constant communication with my Alleghany Admin Team — (love you!)
Among the things we’ve been talking about in all these groups are those topics I touched on above — our hopes and our anxieties. We share resources we find and how we’ve used them on everything from staffing issues to how to engage our respective camp communities.
We drill down in to what any changes might mean to camp this summer, whether that’s shortened sessions (starting late), safety and protective issues, American Camp Association updates and resources, the finances of a changed (or eliminated) season, and how to use loans or other financial strategies to stay afloat and survive this.
Sometimes we just have a round robin of sharing what we’re each doing right now on multiple fronts, including what information we’ve sent to our parents or put on our websites. Perhaps most crucially we explore that looming question over What dates are the absolute last chance date for making decisions about this summer.
The list goes on.
There’s no small degree of anxiety and uncertainty when national and state-level information about COVID changes nearly every day. We don’t want to rush in and make decisions about programs that are over six weeks away when there might be some small window of reprieve on the pandemic before it potentially rears its head again next flu season. So we’re trying to be super informed and yet cautious, prudent, patient.
I already know what it’s like to lean on friends in the industry because we already stay so connected and supportive of one another. In fact my Mastermind Group actually presented together about our group at the American Camp Association National Conference in San Diego this year! In that session we shared how we formed, how we operate, and the lessons learned from one another (I hope to specifically blog about this at some point when things calm down.)
In the age of COVID-19, all that already wonderful support is beyond helpful — it’s essential to our mental and emotional health as we navigate the many issues confronting us while the hour glass ticks down every day as opening days at camps loom nearer and nearer.
Fortunately there’s still some time. So all the support has been crucial.
A few weeks ago when a fellow camp director in Virginia (not in my Mastermind Group) suggested a group call to just connect, share, and support each other, several of us jumped on it. Immediately we decided to make it a weekly thing during this crisis. The West Virginia group was then born out of that one.
It’s so helpful to hear where other camps are in decision-making, and often they have ideas I hadn’t considered. And I’m humbled when I have an idea that they hadn’t considered. We really are proving to be stronger together.
The summer camp industry has always been one of sharing, support, and inspiration. I’m so grateful to be a part of it, to receive from my colleagues, to give what I can, and to hold each other up while we keep our hopes and dreams alive for a swift recovery for the world, and thus for summer camps everywhere!
— Elizabeth Shreckhise, Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls