Camp, COVID-19, and Coming to Terms

Hope Lewellen –

Towards the beginning of the hold the pandemic has exerted on all of our lives (you know, when so many of us left campus for spring break only to… never come back?), my mom made a passing comment.

“What will you do if they cancel camp?” she asked me, referring to the summer camp I have attended since childhood, worked at last summer and, at the time, was planning on working at again this summer. Camp is an incredibly important part of my upbringing and current life; I have more than once cited my experience as a staff member as among the most amazing times my life. Summer staff get the opportunity to be hands-on with young people from ages 5 to 18 and create a fun, loving and supportive environment every week of the summer. Camp has given me some of my favorite memories, closest relationships, and most important parts of myself.

When my mom asked the question, I had only been living at my parents’ for a day or so. I was still under the impression that I would be back at work in Tallahassee the week after spring break. Nothing had occurred yet that would have led me to believe otherwise. So, when it came to thinking about camp, for which my departure date was set for late May, the possibility of it getting cancelled seemed more like an impossibility. 

The next few days changed everything.

At first, my superiors at camp were sending us nothing but messages that expressed a “full steam ahead” attitude. Planning for the summer was still in full swing, and our original start date was still in place. There’s no denying, though, that my mom’s question had planted a seed of doubt in my mind. I started to try to emotionally prepare myself to have to face the cancellation of the summer. I would brush it off when friends or family asked, making comments like, “there’s no way it’s going to be able to happen,” or “I’ve just accepted that it will be cancelled at this point.” Despite my efforts, my mind was still racing with hope and excitement and visions of what the summer might look like if camp did commence.

It felt like being on a seesaw, a feeling familiar to many of us who have had our lives uprooted in the past few months.  I would read news that the spread of COVID-19 was not slowing, but then would receive word from camp that I had been assigned “buddies” (our version of mentors/mentees among summer camp staff) for the summer. My superiors cancelled the first two weeks of camp, but then the Florida government lifted restrictions on summer youth recreational activities. Back and forth.

When the news came that camp had been cancelled in its entirety, I had put myself in a pretty decent position to be okay with it. I took a moment to read the post, let my heart be heavy, and then went on with my day. I comforted friends whom I was supposed to work alongside, assured my family that I was okay, and tried to put it out of mind.

It was later that night when I started to think about the campers, the amazing kids that I got to work with last summer. An amazingly talented now-rising senior who had told me all of her hopes and ideas for her senior summer. An extraordinarily imaginative and kind 5th grader who made me promise to save her a bunk above mine when she came back this summer. A strong and resilient young man, who just finished his first year of high school and is facing an unaccepting home environment and views camp as his one reprieve during the year, the one place he can be himself.

These kids and their stories have stayed with me, and it was thoughts of them and their reactions to not being able to come to camp that made my heart ache.

That being said, I feel privileged to be in a position where I can see the “small stuff,” like the lives of the campers that I served last summer and thinking about how this will impact them, while also trying my hardest to grasp the “big picture” of how the pandemic is affecting everyone (and how those effects are disproportionate due to existing injustices in our world).

Something has been put on my heart while thinking over all that would have happened, camp included, if we weren’t facing a pandemic. I was raised in faith and have always considered myself a spiritual person. If that’s your cup of tea, I believe that when you take a moment to have a quiet mind, whatever higher power you have faith in will speak to you in some way. As I attempted to quiet mine in the midst of grieving the loss of this summer, I was struck with this thought; “don’t continue to mourn what could have been, but turn your eyes and your heart towards what is to come.”

I think that this message is so relevant and applicable to the slew of issues and obstacles that America is currently facing; the pandemic being only one of them. I believe that change and healing can only come from accepting the past and taking the future head-on. That is my plan, as I continue to look for ways to create that loving and supportive environment we have at camp in the world outside of the camp grounds.

As we continue to navigate “big picture” predictions on what our world will look like in the coming years, I will also continue to keep in mind the “small stuff” and maintain fierce hope that I will get the chance to return to camp and those amazing young people in the summer of 2021.

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