Opportunity Knocks

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Here we are with closing eve of our very first session in the year of COVID-19. Daily temperature checks and symptom tracking, masks, constant cleaning of shared spaces and social distancing all seemed so intimidating when we started. Could we find the important elements of camp with these new directives? We absolutely did! Joy, fun, laughter and love have been major components of this first session. In our modified team games today, we all enjoyed the duck race. My 3 week old ducklings wore placards with team colors, and Wind made it to the finish line first.

If there is a theme to this session, it is definitely opportunity. I have been blown away by the creativity of our staff as they have seized the opportunities a closed community has presented. They received many kudos for their “drive thru” safari in the first week, and there are many other out of the box ideas they have implemented. The girls have given the evening programs rave reviews. Perhaps the piece de resistance was Martha’s brilliant Garden Party last night. I have no doubt that Miss Fannie and my grandmother, Catherine, were smiling down on us. From cucumber sandwiches to artistically carved watermelons, an appearance by the llamas, individual tables for each cabin group to dine al fresco and toile aprons for the staff who served the meal, it was a delight to behold. Ricky Nelson’s “I Went to a Garden Party” was a featured song. Our “CDC,” Counselors who Don’t have Cabins, were instrumental in making the evening happen.

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Within our camp bubble, we have watched our girls find their happy selves. We knew our girls had not had opportunities to interact with a large variety of their peers since schools closed three months earlier. Their social souls were starving. Their cabin groups allowed them to hug, to sit together, and to belong. Early on, we definitely saw signs that empathy for others had suffered in quarantine. We lacked practice responding to words in real time and in reading facial expressions. Community needed to be rebuilt, and two weeks at camp has put us on the right path to realizing how codependent we are as humans. We have heard how much it means to our girls to be at camp, to be with their favorite people, and to feel the love of friendship.

The sight of a cabin running at breakneck speed across camp during the Wolf Hunt evening program made me smile. The ability to come and go as much as we were able to allow while still honoring our cohorts gave the girls a sense of freedom that they have missed these past months. An unintended consequence of adapting to COVID at camp has been the number of long-time campers who have participated in activities they have never before tried at camp, and to their surprise, they really enjoyed learning the new skills; an opportunity that we have never before realized.

Allowing Dryad cabins and Leadership the opportunity to ride up to the Blue Ridge Parkway to watch the sunrise over the valley reminded us of the beauty and goodness of our natural world. We are mindful of the challenges nature presents with novel viruses and other diseases, but this time together has allowed us to realize there is still so much we can do to continue living with joy and happiness.

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The fluidity of the coronavirus experience means we continue to learn and adjust as new information and new recommendations are released. We also spend time internally evaluating our operations and figuring out a better way to implement procedures. There are no guarantees in what we do. We strive to our best, but we understand that risk cannot be eliminated. This is true every year, not just because of COVID.

The new guidance released yesterday from the Governor and NCDHHS presents us with new challenges, particularly around the use of face coverings and masks. It has been easy to be in our tight little community for these past 12 days. We have developed a sense of safety with each other, but we all know that may be a figment of our imagination. We now are faced with leaving this established comfort behind and assembling a new group under more restrictive guidelines. This is hard work, definitely not for the faint of heart, and we proceed forward with a bit of fear of the unknown. The weight of the responsibility we carry is enormous.

However, as hard as this is and with the concern we shoulder, there is still opportunity. Our focus has to remain on what we are able to do, not what we cannot do. Without looking forward with hope, we become paralyzed. In every threat or disappointment, there is opportunity. Granted, it can be very hard to find those opportunities at times, but we have to keep finding a path forward, to continue living life, and to continue to rely on those around us for love, friendship and support.

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I keep finding myself drawn to the words of Nelson Mandela at the moment, and I cannot think of a leader who was more challenged to find opportunity through long, dark periods of human history:

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

As I finish this day heading into final campfire and as I look forward to Sunday, I am fighting a bit of fear within myself. I am not sure I can say that I am conquering my fear as much as I am managing it. Life presents us with many risks each and every day. No guarantees can be made, ever. Until the arrival of COVID, we managed risks by leaning on our past experiences from which we drew confidence in our ability to confront the risks. COVID presents us with many unknowns; the opposite of what we humans crave. However, we know that our children are the least impacted by the virus. We are applying the skills we have acquired over time to today, to COVID. Who knows what the next days will bring, but we will continue forward doing what we are able to do to mitigate the spread of COVID. Concurrently, we will provide the joy and happiness of childhood and a semblance of normalcy to our Keystone girls to the very best of our abilities.

We thank you for your support in this journey to find opportunity.