This has been a spring of careful thought, difficult decisions, and creative solutions. Each of us has had to make continued adjustments in balancing the health and well being of our older and vulnerable loved ones with the developmental and emotional needs of our children. The decisions we make are going to be different for each family, and of course, for each camp.
So why then have we decided to open Merri-Mac and Timberlake this summer? In a word: stewardship.
Each summer we have the tremendous responsibility of caring for hundreds of campers. While they are not our own children, we have always treated them as if they were, because the families that love them have entrusted us not only with the responsibility of keeping them safe, but also of helping them to grow physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually. Camp provides a unique growth opportunity because here at camp kids can: 1) experience authentic connections with their peers unencumbered by things like screens, school, social and academic pressure and general business 2) immerse themselves in the beauty of the outdoors of western North Carolina, while trying new things and taking healthy risks. Put another way, at camp children build lifelong friendships and experience adventure in ways we have not seen replicated anywhere else.
COVID-19 has changed life for all of us, and we know that camp is not the right fit for everyone this summer. As we went through the decision making process, we kept coming back to two things: could we provide the same level of care and program that we promise to our families each year, and can we still provide a place where campers can build authentic friendships and experience adventure?
We are still learning a lot about this virus, and we know it poses a risk to all people. We also know, however, that older and vulnerable populations are at a disproportionately larger risk, while younger people without preexisting conditions are less likely to have severe complications. H1N1 attacked young people – it was part of the nature of the virus. COVID-19 is doing the same to those over 65 and with preexisting conditions. By creating a closed community that does not include these populations, and implementing rigorous prevention and management policies (read all about those here), we believe we can continue to meet the highest standard of care for our camp community.
But what about building friendship and experiencing adventure? Will it still feel like camp?
Camp will look and feel different this summer. The implementation of our COVID procedures will change the rhythm and pace of camp life and will alter some of our normal programs. We’ll spend more time in our cabin families, less time gathered as a whole camp, more time wearing a face covering, and less time inside. While these adjustments will take some flexibility and getting used to, they will not prevent friendship or adventure from blossoming.
Those who are able to come to camp this summer will still experience the joy of making a new friend, the thrill of trying something new, and the pride in mastering a challenging skill. They will still breathe deeply of the mountain air, smile broadly at the prospect of hundreds of acres to roam and discover, and swim happily in cool lake waters. They will still feel the rush of heated competition, still learn to win with humility and to lose with grace. As sessions end, they will still delight in explaining to their families on the drive home all the things they learned and friends they made. When the mountains and songs begin to fade, they will feel the loss of leaving a place of simple happiness and true friendship, and they’ll start counting down the days until they can return.
Providing that type of growth and experience for our campers is more than just an opportunity, it’s a responsibility. It’s a responsibility that comes loaded with unique challenges this year but it’s one we thoughtfully undertake. We recognize that this does not mean every camp should open, every organization has a different set of circumstances under which they must make the very best decision they can. For us, however, with the resources of two full camp properties, a built in wilderness expeditions program, two fully operational health centers and the most experienced staff we’ve ever had, the decision not to open would be a failure in the stewardship of our families and campers, and one we cannot make.
Director, Camp Timberlake for Boys