17 days to opening day…and I could not be more proud. We are going to make this happen!
This summer is the 100th season Keystone has operated on our property here in Brevard. Those of you who listen to my stories at campfire know that we bounced around the first few years before finding this site in the fall of 1919 so we could open here in 1920. Challenges have always been a part of Keystone! The flu pandemic of 1918 was the 3rd summer of operation. Keystone survived the Great Depression. We did not operate in the summer of 1943 due to the rationing of WWII, and my aunt has been kind to remind me of my grandmother’s handling of the polio crisis. Florida was profoundly affected by polio and most all of our campers at that time were from Florida. Gee Gee had to quarantine the Florida girls for 2 weeks at Mrs. Duckworth’s Boarding House in downtown Brevard before they could come to camp. Keeping the girls happy and entertained until they could get to camp was quite a challenge! In my own tenure as director, we have faced the largest property loss to fire in the history of Transylvania County in 2005 and the H1N1 scare of 2009.
Reviewing this bit of history almost makes me ask why I continue doing what I do. I hope it does not sound trite to say that I don’t know any other way of living. Life is always presenting us with challenges. Living means being open to taking calculated risk in return for reward. If we are going to move forward, we have to rise to face challenges.
Many of you know that I occupy several different leadership positions across my community and the state. I like to spend time considering the lessons I learn in these different organizations and how those lessons relate to camp and to life in general. History is also an amazing teacher, and I appreciate some of my favorite authors who so clearly provide lessons in leadership from our nation’s past: Doris Kearns Goodwin, David McCullough and Jon Meachum. Additionally, John Dickerson, a reporter with 60 Minutes, offered a synopsis of leadership in an interview this morning: Great leaders need to share the hard truths of the situation, to assume responsibility in order to align everyone in the same direction and to provide people with the information they need to feel some control over their lives.
What does this have to do with camp?
The hard truth: An inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any place where people are present. We know that COVID-19 is extremely contagious and can lead to severe illness and death, particularly for the elderly and the medically compromised. Very fortunately, the impact of COVID-19 in the 5-24 age bracket is minimal.
To assume responsibility: Every day at camp has risk, and this risk existed before COVID. Horseback riding and putting campers in a vehicle for an out of camp trip are two that always weigh heavily on me. (I cannot tell you what it feels like to get a call that a camper has fallen from a horse. My stomach drops into my toes until I am able to get to the camper’s side to assess her condition for myself.) I am responsible for everything that happens at Keystone. Communicable diseases have long been a concern at camp: influenza, H1N1, pneumonia, meningitis, and head lice, to name a few. We work hard to mitigate all risks as best we are able. The health and safety of our campers and our staff is and always has been our highest priority.
Information: we have taken reasonable additional measures in an effort to mitigate transmission of COVID-19. Yes, camp will be different. Daily temperature checks, assemblies, meals, and campfires will be some of the more obvious changes, but different doesn’t mean bad. Anyone up for bagels delivered by roller skating staff?
To say that we have been spending a lot of time thinking about camp and assessing the risk of operating this year would be an understatement. “All-consuming” might be a better description of where we find ourselves. We are all in in taking this calculated risk to make camp possible for our many campers and their families who want this to happen.
Our new “normal” is underway. We have a temperature and symptom log sheet for every Keystone employee to use upon arrival at work each day. The summer staff arrive on Saturday for their 14 day quarantine. The COVID-19 testing is scheduled for first thing Sunday morning. Our public health department is coming out to assist with the testing as they have been so supportive of our efforts to open and to mitigate the transmission of the virus. The counselors will be living in small groups of 4 in each cabin in order to maintain good social distancing. Staff training, not only for cabin life and activities, but also for cleaning and sanitizing, will be occurring in wide open spaces as we prepare for the arrival of campers on the 14th.
Life is far from perfect, and Keystone is far from perfect. However, we continually strive for excellence. There are two quotes I leave with you this evening. The first is from a leader in my favorite collegiate sport of basketball:
Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do. -John Wooden
And the other is probably the most pertinent for today:
It always seems impossible until it is done. -Nelson Mandela
We are striving to provide that which we can and to not allow that which we cannot provide to keep us from moving forward. We look forward to welcoming you for our 2020 season.