The Hardest Decision We Ever Had to Make

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to progress quickly and without a clearly-defined finish line, the unmitigable risks to camp have become impossible to ignore. And so with heavy hearts, we have made the very difficult decision to cancel our camp programs this summer.

We have looked under every rock to find a way to the green-light scenario for this summer, but the facts and risks are insurmountable. Even if some of these factors change between now and August, there is no possible way that we can get to a different decision based on the extensive risks we face. Believe me, we tried.

While this feels anywhere from disappointing to devastating for each of us in this moment, that feeling will not last forever. Experience Camps, however, will last forever. We must make the right decisions for the long term health of this organization and the campers we serve.

Primary Decision Factors*

  • Our mission is based on a foundation of serving and protecting an emotionally vulnerable population. Opening camp, knowing that there is a real possibility of someone contracting a virus that could lead to serious illness or even death for our campers, their caregivers, or our volunteers and staff, is in direct opposition to our mission.
  • While we’ve considered various social distancing adjustments for the week of camp, the reality is that it is a) impossible and b) not what camp is about. The experience of our program would be unacceptably altered should we attempt to eliminate high-fives, hugs, and close contact. Introducing militant hygiene practices, such as wearing masks, daily temperature checks, and other precautions would create an environment of fear, unease and anxiety. That’s not what we do.
  • While many reports indicate that the curve will be flattened in some parts of the country by August, there are still many states that are lagging behind in community response and are predicted to see their spikes later in the summer. Because our campers and volunteers come from so many different communities, and because we can’t reasonably know where each person has traveled in the weeks leading up to camp, we don’t feel it is responsible to possibly re-introduce the virus to a community through the geographic melting pot of camp.
  • If anyone became symptomatic during the week of camp, the fallout would be devastating to the health of our community, the anxiety of those at camp, and the operations required to properly and responsibly manage the necessary quarantine of the entire camp, travel home, and medical needs of the community.
  • We have already started to see cancelations from volunteers due to restricted summer vacations, terminations, and overall concerns about their adjusted priorities once they are able to return to offices and school. We haven’t even scratched the surface of the likely impact to our staffing needs and the resulting quality of our program should we lack the critical people and resources needed to run camp. This is especially true of our medical staff, many of whom are on the front lines of this crisis and unable to commit to a week of camp anytime soon.
  • The federal and state governments are changing their minds every day on what is and isn’t allowed. They have not yet weighed in on camp, however, it is possible that a state could shut us down days or hours before camp is to begin, leaving us with no time to prepare, adjust or mitigate our ability to deliver alternate programming to our campers.
  • Even if the government does ease restrictions nationally or in the states that we operate, their decision factors are not the same as ours. The government has a responsibility to weigh the economic impact of social restrictions along with the risk to human life. Our decision only factors in the latter.

Make no mistake, there are extreme feelings of loss and even grief in this decision and the knowledge that this summer will look very different for the thousands of people that set their yearly clock according to the camp season. And like grief, each person affected by this decision will likely cycle through some combination of denial, disappointment, sadness, and ultimately, acceptance. At the end of this treacherous time in our lives, we – our Experience Camps family – will be OK. We will go on.

So now we pivot. We have already started planning for alternate programming for our campers to ensure that our mission is met in new ways. We will explore ideas that might even become part of the fabric of our model going forward. Our campers need us now more than ever, and we will be there for them now and forever.

*The factors we used to make this decision aren’t necessarily the same ones that other camp programs will or should use. Every situation is unique. The population served, the length of the program, the staffing model, and the geographic make-up of the campers and staff are all important pieces of the equation. While we believe this is the right decision for Experience Camps, it is by no means a definitive guide for other camps.