As camp has now officially been over for a couple of weeks, we have had time to reflect on our unprecedented summer experience. On the last day of camp we all shed a few tears – partly from relief that we had successfully made it through the summer without a case of Covid-19 and partly feeling sad that this really special summer had come to an end.
This is our story…. After the shutdown in March, we all started working from home, but certain that by the summertime this would all be over and camp would run as usual. As days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months, we soon realized that this would not be the case and there was a real possibility that Camp would not be able to run at all! This was a tough thing to come to terms with, as we’ve all spent the majority of our lives in camping and at Green Acres; particularly Eddy, who started the Camp 55 years ago. At this point, we decided to donate our inventory of N95 masks and surgical gloves to Conquer Covid, an initiative started by Hayley Wickenheiser and Ryan Reynolds. Read about the story here.
A real sad moment was when we had to tell our Head Staff in a Zoom meeting that Camp was likely not going to happen. Although they appreciated our transparency, their disappointment was palpable. The majority of our Unit Heads have considered Green Acres to be their home where they have grown up and made incredible relationships. No one could picture their summer without Green Acres. All the while we were so incredibly touched by our amazing camp families who reached out to us with unwavering appreciation and support!
On May 19th, we received encouraging news from the Ford Government; that day camps could possibly be allowed to open! We were all energized by the news but had no idea what we would be dealing with! How many kids would be allowed? Would parents want to send their children? Could we pull it off with regards to PPE and keeping everyone safe? What about the pools and bussing?? It wasn’t until a few weeks later, on June 2nd, that we were handed the Ministry of Health Guidelines. We worked fast and furiously to figure out how to make it work safely and whether there was enough interest from our families to move forward.
On June 10th, we took a deep breath and made the decision to run Camp in Summer 2020 under strict guidelines. We had 3 weeks to pull it all together. At this time we had no staff hired and no campers registered! We knew that Camp would look and feel differently. We took the guidelines and adapted it to our camp. Working closely with York Region Public Health, we had to rethink the way we did each and every thing that happens at camp – how will counsellors put sunscreen on the kids? How will drop off and pick up work? How do we make sure that bathrooms are safe? Where will everyone go when it rains? What do we do when someone doesn’t feel well? Yes, we also had a one hour discussion about tetherballs!! We will never forget what Lori said to our families at a Zoom Town Hall meeting on June 16 – “We have been running camp for 55 years, but we’ve never done this before”.
Things started happening very quickly. Families put their trust in us and registered their children, over 100 staff were hired and our maintenance team was working hard getting the facilities ready!! We were so very grateful to our Head Staff who stepped up to leave their bubbles and come to work. In a couple of weeks they accomplished three months worth of work, including creating systems for their units to keep the campers and staff safe, developing a plan for staff training and brainstorming ways to make camp fun.
July 6th was the start of something truly incredible! We put on our masks and shields, grabbed the sanitizers and thermometers, turned on the music and welcomed everyone to Summer 2020 at Green Acres!!
We learned so much this summer! Some things that were put into place worked so well that we will never go back! For instance, we put an outdoor triage tent outside of our Health Centre to minimize the amount of indoor interaction. No more crowding in the Health Centre! There were things we appreciated so much this summer. We loved the personal connections made with our families, chatting with and getting to know the parents and campers at drop off and pick up!
Most importantly, we loved that we were able to put the Camp Experience back into Camp! At the onset we were concerned that some of the fun would be sacrificed in order to comply with the guidelines to keep everyone safe and healthy. That concern was shared by some of our parents as well. Would camp still be fun? Thanks to our dedicated team, we slowly started adding things back that we never thought possible. It started with socially distanced weekly Spirit Rallies and by the end of the summer we had safely accomplished Dress Up days, Camp Wide Olympic Day, Staff Extended Night, LTP Fundraisers, Morning Assemblies, Grads Survivor, Mystery Bags at the Lunch Shack, GA Games, and our yearly Staff Slide Show and Gold Medallist Night.
But on that last day of Camp, when Grads had asked their parents to pick them up later than usual, when 7-year olds held tightly to their counsellors – not wanting to say goodbye despite them wearing a mask, and when 18-year old male staff were openly crying because Camp had come to an end, we knew then and there that we had created something truly special. It wasn’t always easy. There were stressful times. But what we had accomplished became very clear when parents started reaching out over email and social media, thanking us for bringing summer back and for providing much needed normalcy to their families, using the hashtag #forevergrateful
We want to thank everyone involved in making this summer not only happen, but amazingly memorable! From our nursing staff, to our maintenance team, the counsellors, specialists, swim staff, sport instructors, our York Region Public Health contacts, our dedicated office staff and of course, our Head Staff. We want to thank all the parents who trusted us with their children and those who offered their help throughout the process. A special thank you to those families who couldn’t send their children to Camp or were not comfortable sending, but left their deposits and/or camp fees with us for next year. We truly appreciate your support! We are already planning for Summer 2021. We are not certain what things will look like next year, but we are confident that with our 55 years of camp experience, including a summer successfully navigating through the Covid-19 pandemic, we can not only succeed but thrive under any circumstances that we are faced with.
It is us that are truly humbled and #forevergrateful! We wish everyone a safe and healthy year ahead and look forward to seeing everyone in Summer 2021!