We have made it to our final evening of our June session. The enthusiasm for camp has been at a fever pitch all week, and it has been fabulous to be a part of the excitement. The sun has been shining, the girls are all smiles and team games are underway.
Camp is such a fascinating business. What seems fairly simple at first glance is actually multiple layers of complexity. This is reflected whenever I am filling out a form that has a drop down list of businesses. So many categories apply to us: accommodation, administration, agriculture, animal, construction, education, food service, forestry, laundry, medical, repair and maintenance, transportation and the category where I usually end up: other. We also have several constituencies: campers, parents, counselors, and staff. Looking back, I cannot believe I was turning 22 the summer I started managing Keystone. This is my 39th summer at the helm, and if anything, camp has become more complex as the years have passed.
The first few years were hard for me as I started figuring out my approach to balancing the many demands of camp. Entering a family business straight out of college also added challenges. My dad seemed to think that I knew a lot more about the business because I had grown up here. Learning by osmosis is overrated!
Keystone and girls’ camping rapidly became my passion. Moving to a program where girls learned exclusively from girls became a priority. We were able to create a community that gave our girls safety, support, and encouragement. They were able to find their best selves. They were able to fail and to try again. They learned to persist to reach their goals. These aspects of camp, and Keystone specifically, have never been more important than now.
The cycle of camp ebbs and flows. In the winter, we are more of a repair and maintenance and administration operation. The other “subsidiaries” start coming online in May. We value the chance to have a “soft” opening with our Mother-Daughter Weekends. It truly takes us 9 months to prepare for 9 weeks of camp! We love seeing all of our work come together when we open.
This year, Covid churned up a storm for us in our first week that we never expected. We had 2 Covid free summers when we knew so much less about the virus than we do now. Why us, why now? We had both campers and counselors who were testing positive. We were in close communication with public health. The communicable disease nurses came out and met with our staff. Parents were having their plans disrupted because they had to come pick up their positive campers. The 7 positive tests in a single day was devastating, but I didn’t have time to give into my emotions. I was acting as head cook in the camp kitchen for a few days. Covid hit us there as well. The campers really appreciated my effort. (Several have asked for my recipe for red beans and rice. You will find it on the New York Times Cooking site!) My time as the head cook was a first for me in my career. Fortunately, I really enjoy cooking; I just had never cooked for 220 people. It was a success. My husband served as our fry master for Saturday lunch of chicken fingers and french fries! I wish you could see how much these girls eat!
Everyone had their own opinion on how we should be managing Covid, from testing to quarantine requirements. Nurse Eleanor and I operate from a whole community health perspective meeting the guidelines of our public health department. We could not treat each positive uniquely. We continue to believe the 6 day quarantine is essential. Some patients were very lucky to only experience mild symptoms. Some suffered for 3-4 days with bad headaches, temperatures, and body aches. One case was quite serious. Covid still has the potential to have a big impact on some people. Because of that, Nurse Eleanor and I feel a commitment to our community to test when medically indicated. We are not doing surveillance testing, so it is possible that there may be some campers who test positive after they leave camp. Also be mindful of potential exposures on the way home. We know there were exposures during travel to camp.
When you gather people from 22 different states, you take a risk of exposure to different strains of Covid. We had one person who had had Covid in May come down with Covid again earlier this week. We did not feel we could ignore Covid as we could not know how it might manifest in different individuals. We are hopeful that changing over to the PCR test for our remaining sessions will help identify possible pre-camp exposures. We do feel we navigated the Covid challenge of June well. We finished the session with a total of 23 documented cases (12 campers and 11 staff), approximately 10% of the entire camp. Most of the campers who left for their required quarantines were able to return to finish out the session.
What did we learn? The perennial lesson that challenges can hit you when you least expect them. We learned we are an incredibly resilient group of people who possess strengths we never knew we had. We have the ability to continue to move forward even when we are struggling. We battled the disappointment of positive Covid tests, the departure of cabinmates, and the isolation of staff members. We celebrated the return of campers and counselors from their quarantine. We learned we could easily lift our mood by throwing ourselves into an evening program or a special cabin trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We control our attitude and our outlook. We had fun with total abandon. We rolled with a changing activity schedule yet still managed to pass levels and earn awards. The value of camp is our relationships with one another. We were here for each other, and we were able to draw strength from one another. We are Keystone Girls, and we can do ANYTHING!
“Once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain: when you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”
Thank you for the opportunity to have your girls at Keystone. It is a privilege to be able to provide a positive environment for them, and I am grateful to learn from them every summer.
Very sincerely, Page