Late this spring, we were planning our Akeela Family Camp and I was so thrilled to be a part of the fun and excitement. Much to my surprise, I got a call in May, inviting me to spend the summer at another camp! Our colleagues at Lake of the Woods and Greenwoods Camps in Decatur, Michigan were running a modified version of their regular camp program and asked if I could join their summer leadership team.
As much as I love Akeela, I could not pass up an incredible opportunity to help our fellow camp professionals and to learn just what it takes to open camp successfully in a COVID-19 world. I made my way out to the Midwest in mid-June to assist with staff training, camp set-up and to fill the role of middle aged boys division leader (the Akeela equivalent of a Head Counselor)! As you can imagine, a lot of adaptations must be put in place in order to make camp safe in the current health environment. For starters, all Lake of the Woods campers were required to receive a negative COVID test result a week prior to the camp’s opening day. Meanwhile, we made sure that all cabins and buildings had extra space and ventilation, adjusted virtually all of the dining hall meal service procedures, and planned activities that were able to run without risking cross-contamination between pods of campers. (All very technical stuff!)
Coronavirus Precautions for Summer Camp
Once campers arrived, campers took their second COVID test, which gave results within 15 minutes. These two tests taken within a week of each other gave us confidence as we built a COVID-free “bubble”. Nevertheless, as an additional precaution, campers kept their mask on and stayed in close proximity to their cabin-mates. On the fifth day of camp, everyone tested negative yet again, allowing us to progress to a phase in which campers could enjoy outdoor activities within their “pod” without masks. In retrospect, this all sounds fairly straightforward and simple. However, there were so many factors that were tough to foresee and consider until the moment, which at times was a little scary!
As all of this was happening, the incredible staff were extremely diligent with disinfecting all program equipment, whether that be sports balls, life jackets, or even harnesses and ropes at the ropes course! Holding each other accountable with appropriate distancing, hygiene and masking was the key component of remaining safe. I learned through this process the amount of testing, equipment and thorough cleaning required to maintain safety.
Of course, all of this mask-wearing and distance-keeping felt a little weird. There was less singing, chanting, and interaction than normal. However, we all understood that these minor restrictions were the best way to keep everybody healthy and have as “normal” a camp experience as possible. And ultimately, that’s what we accomplished. It was truly a successful summer, in every sense of the word. Everyone at Lake of the Woods was healthy and was overjoyed at getting to enjoy a summer at camp.
Despite the jubilation of completing a summer with hundreds of campers and staff and zero positive cases, there were special aspects about Akeela that I missed dearly! Our daily evening meetings and announcements of recognition, the Akeela Pageant, digestive dance parties, and hike days – just to name a few!
With the knowledge I gained from my experience at Lake of the Woods and Greenwoods, I am confident that we can adapt Akeela in manageable and digestible ways in order to open safely for 2021. Our returning staff are so excited to get back on the shores of Miller Pond and make the 2021 summer an experience for campers one they will never forget! In the coming months, we are excited to keep in touch with Akeela campers and families, as we diligently put together a safe and enjoyable program that will have camp feeling like camp again, despite living in a world where we need to be a little more careful. We can’t wait to see you all at camp!