Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards
We had a new weather alert system installed on top of the gym this week, just in time for 3.5 inches of rain yesterday! I have never been as thankful to live up on top of a mountain. The day felt more like midwinter than late March. It seemed like the rain would never end. This morning, it was a beautiful new day of sunshine, blue skies and optimism! The daffodils are up in force brightening the roads and paths through camp. Wildflowers have started popping up in the woods, and the grass is greening.
Four Winds is nearing completion. We are all going to be jealous of the very cool front porch it has. The beds are being built as I type. We also have a big addition flying above the canoeing lake. Lots of brush to be cleared, but we are getting there. There are several things we just can’t wait to share! Only 72 more days!
This week has held a lot of news about our pandemic. Schools are reopening, college students are becoming eligible for vaccines, and we all have our second dose scheduled for April 1st. The rules do keep changing, and we are very encouraged. Covid tops our list of tasks at our weekly staff meetings. We are so grateful for our Nursing Director, Eleanor Mathews. Eleanor has been focused on finalizing our 2021 Communicable Disease Plan. This will be a document we will have reviewed by our Public Health Department and our camp physician for their approval. Camps have long been in the business of managing communicable diseases. Covid has presented new challenges, but we have adapted well to this new virus.
We wanted to make sure you have the latest resources that we have developed for our families. On Tuesday, March 23rd, CNN posted an article by Lisa Drayer, “Will Summer Camp Be Safe in 2021?”. The article suggests 6 questions parents should ask of their camp:
Will testing be required prior to entry and during camp?
What are the camp’s safety protocols?
Can the camp adjust protocols based on the incidence of virus in the local neighborhood?
Will staff be vaccinated?
What is the plan if a camper or staff member develops Covid-19 symptoms or tests positive for the virus?
Are you comfortable with the camp’s values and the directors?
Very proudly, when this article was published, we had already developed our 2021 COVID Guidelines. These are posted on our website, and we invite you to go through these guidelines where you will find the answers to all of the above questions. If you have any remaining concerns or questions after reading our 2021 COVID Guidelines, we are here to help.
Covid remains a fluid situation. Allow us to reassure you that we are in communication with a variety of agencies and resources as we put shape to our summer. When new recommendations are made, we are able to pivot quickly to respond to a change in course. Without a doubt, our highest priority is the health and safety of your daughter while she is with us at Keystone.
We remain grateful for the experience we had successfully operating in 2020. We look forward to the many opportunities we have to make 2021 just as successful, if not more. It is truly an honor and a privilege to have you and your daughter(s) in our Keystone family. We cannot think of a better job than being able to give of ourselves to your girls; giving them joy and belonging in a strong camp community.
Page, Heidi, Anna, MED, Martha, and Eleanor
Just when we thought weekly email updates would not be necessary, here we are again. The title of last week’s email was certainly appropriate with “New Year, Same Story.” Covid continues to be a challenge, and we all expect to be dealing with it through the summer.
We had an incredibly successful summer of operations in 2020. We pulled off what seemed to be inconceivable: running summer camp without a single incidence of Covid in our staff or our campers. We required symptom monitoring, masking and cabin cohorting. Prior to camp opening, we tested and quarantined our staff. You may want to read the press coverage we received to further understand how last summer worked and how our campers experienced the modifications:
Many of you want definitive answers regarding our plans for this coming summer. Unfortunately, definitive answers just don’t exist. Like you, we are adjusting our expectations with each bit of new data that is released. We are hopeful that rapid testing and vaccinations will be readily available. However, we are very aware that there is not yet an approved vaccine for children. We did hear yesterday that a priority of the Biden administration is to open schools safely within the first 100 days. This would have a potential impact on protocols that would add to our ability to safely operate camp. We look forward to learning more as this program is developed. The following news article is encouraging on groups of school age children:
In the meantime, we are participating in as many learning opportunities as possible. Eleanor Mathews, our Nursing Director, is active in the Association of Camp Nurses. She has been involved in vaccination education programs and communicable disease plans for camps. Our administrative staff has attended webinars on protocols to mitigate the spread of Covid and to learn about steps other camps took in 2020 and plan to take in 2021. These involve testing, frequency of testing, cabin cohorting, mask requirements, etc. We are also actively engaged with our local health department. They supported us in 2020 and will be doing the same in 2021. The difference this year is that they will be able to assist with rapid testing.
If we make the assumption that no advances are made in battling this pandemic, we know we can operate camp the same way we did last year, leaning on the lessons learned, the program we developed for a pandemic and the full cooperation of our staff and our camp families. Current recommendations from pediatricians include a 14-day pre-camp quarantine for the camper and maintaining the cabin cohorting at camp. With the number of outdoor activities we offer, we are hoping to allow more flexibility in individual scheduling.
We are all optimistic that many advances will be made over the next 4½ months. We are hopeful that our staff and adult employees will all be vaccinated against the virus. We are optimistic that reliable rapid testing will be in place. We also look forward to understanding more about transmission and exposure of the virus. Additional understanding, vaccines and better testing will all contribute to shaping our summer plans. We also know that we can relax protocols after we pass a 14 day time period with an isolated session.
We meet as a full staff each Thursday. Covid occupies a considerable amount of time in our discussions. When new information is revealed to us, we review our current plans, from our communicable disease plan to cabin life, and make any adjustments we need to make to keep health and safety at the top of our priorities. When we have new information, we will share it with you in our communications. We will distribute this as an email directly to you as well as posting the news in the blog section of our website. We will also develop an easily accessible Covid section for our website, and we will notify you when this is up and available.
From FreeDictionary.com, plans are a proposed or intended course of action. We can all appreciate how prepared we must be to change our plans as we learn more about Covid. The good news is that we at Keystone are resilient, flexible and determined. We understand that life has risks, and we strive to mitigate risk with each decision we make. We are also honest and transparent in our relationships with our families. We will keep you informed as our plans evolve. Making the summer of 2021 a success depends on our relationship with you.
We look forward to celebrating our 105th summer with you.
Camp will be here before we know it, and we will continue to stay in touch with you as we put definite shape to policies and procedures in the age of Covid. The logistics of arriving at camp did occupy a good bit of our staff meeting this week, and we want to share our decisions with you.
Regarding camp arrivals and transportation, we have chosen to operate in the same manner we did last summer. In order to provide the maximum protection for our campers, we must protect our staff. Thus, we will be keeping our staff out of airports again this summer. We realize this makes things more difficult for our families, and we are grateful for your understanding of the importance of staff health in Keystone’s ability to operate for the summer. Keeping any chance of viral exposure to a bare minimum, implementing pre-camp quarantine periods and testing will assure that our staff and administration is Covid free on our opening days.
All opening days are on Sundays. Families are able to make their own flight arrangements on commercial flights or via private planes and arrange their own transportation to camp once on the ground. We ask that you follow all available protocols while flying. We expect we will be using rapid tests for those who have been on planes within 5 days of arriving at camp. The Asheville Airport (AVL) is the closest to camp and rental cars are available for the quick 30 minute drive to camp. Asheville also has a FBO accommodating private planes. The Greenville-Spartanburg Ariport (GSP) is about 1.5 hours down the road in South Carolina. Flights into GSP are often less expensive than those into AVL.
We will continue with camper drop off without allowing parents to leave their vehicles. Not only is this a good preventative measure in mitigating viral spread, but it also allows us to immediately engage the camper in their cabins and the overall camp community. The girls adapted to camp much more quickly last summer, and we all enjoyed the absence of tears. We will be adding a drive-by camp store for your shopping pleasure. We expect the new team t-shirts to be very popular items: Earth, Wind, Fire and Water. Martha has been working on new hats and sweatshirts as well.
We are still discussing the minutiae of our Friday closing days. The one certainty is that all campers will be picked up by car.
We remain grateful for your support as we work to provide a safe, fun and nurturing environment for your daughter(s). Our relationship with you is paramount to our success and a successful camp session for your daughter(s).
The new year has arrived, and we are back in the saddle preparing for camp! As much as we all hoped for stability and certainly with the passing of 2020, we are not there yet. Our success in operating in 2020 and the advent of vaccines make us optimistic for the summer. However, we are also very aware that life can turn in a flash.
You are our partners in making camp happen. So many of you rode the waves with us last spring, we want to continue to be open and transparent as we approach this summer. We aren’t yet thinking that we will have weekly updates for you, but we do expect to be in touch every few weeks as our public health officials provide information on ongoing testing efforts and vaccination schedules. We want to use best practices with testing for the summer season. Because we operated under strict guidelines in 2020, we know we can run camp very well while mitigating the spread of Covid, but we are dependent on decisions made by the State of North Carolina that govern our operations. The North Carolina Youth Camp Association represents us on the state level and is actively engaged in communications with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. As we receive information, we will share it with you.
We value our relationship with our families. We worked together with you in 2020 to manage the risks of opening and operating, and we are proud of the job we did. We feel we were able to make our relationships with our families whole whether you attended camp or whether you chose to wait for 2021. There is nothing that is risk free about living life or running a business, and we are grateful for your understanding of those unknowns. Our goal will always be to do our very best job to provide your daughter(s) with the best summer camp experience we are able keeping health and safety at the top or our priorities. We cannot guarantee a Covid-free summer, but we will do our best to work in that direction.
We would like to refer you to our cancellation policies as agreed to in our camp application agreement. Cancellations made by February 1st will be a refund of your deposit less a $250 processing fee. If you are not participating in a monthly payment plan, 50% of your remaining balance is due on February 1st with full payment for the summer due by April 1st. We are attaching your current billing statement.
We still haven’t found a reliable crystal ball on Amazon for predicting the summer. We will work with you as we did in 2020 taking each bit of news regarding the pandemic and making appropriate adjustments. Our relationships with you, our camp families, are paramount to our success. We are grateful for your patience and understanding in these uncertain times.
I am sure we all feel that we have been living in an alternate universe of late. Who could have possibly imagined COVID-19 and its impact on our lives and businesses? We are all adjusting to a new reality of social distancing, handwashing and mask-wearing. Life has changed, and it is beholden on us to make adjustments so we might continue moving forward.
Keystone will be open this summer, but our schedule and our sessions will be modified. This is a decision that took hours of thought, work and understanding. We are all profoundly aware of all that has been lost by our children these past 3 months. We want to provide a semblance of “normal” life when there is no normal. We want our girls to be able to be outside, to see friends, to enjoy camp activities, and to find joy. We feel driven to meet that need more than ever, and we will be leaning on many sources for guidance and counsel. COVID is not going away. We want to live as best we are able in the midst of COVID.
My husband has begun calling the conference room in the camp office, “The War Room.” Honestly, for us, it does feel that way. Heidi, Anna, Mary-Elizabeth (MED), Martha and I have been working along with Jessica Page, our Riding Director, and Eleanor Matthews, our Nursing Director. Hours and days have been invested in walking through every guideline and examining how our operations would be impacted. Guidance has been provided by the state of North Carolina, the American Camp Association and the CDC. We have been in frequent contact with our county health department and our camp physician, and they will continue to provide support to us every step of the way.
This morning was our annual camp health training conducted by our health department. Needless to say, the focus of today’s meeting was COVID-19 and camps. I will be very honest and tell you that we came away from the meeting feeling very vulnerable. The summer has risk of COVID occurring. We will do our best to mitigate the virus, but we cannot promise perfection. As we mentioned on Friday, we are all in this together. Operating camp this summer is a partnership of parents, staff, campers and our larger community. We must all be willing to assume some risk and new responsibilities. To quote the Transylvania County Public Health Director, “With thoughtfulness to approach and good safety practices, the risk can be managed. COVID is very serious, but life can’t simply stop. There has to be a balance. Camps mitigate communicable disease risk every single year.” We will continue to mitigate.
Given what we know about COVID and the professional advice we have received, we will offer 4 two week sessions beginning on June 14th. The 13 day length helps with mitigating exposure and with maintaining optimum health within our camp community. As we shared on Friday, the first session will run with only 70 campers from North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina. This is a restriction for our Governor’s order for Phase 2 of reopening. Phase 2 is expected to begin this Friday, May 22nd.
We are profoundly aware of the disappointment our three- and four-week girls will feel with the session change. We have mourned the loss ourselves. We are rethinking how we provide a great program while social distancing. It will be different, but we have every confidence that we will have a blast together! Does anyone doubt MED and Martha’s abilities to be creative and come up with some amazing activities? We are so very lucky to have them working on the program! Check out their What Will Keystone Look Like This Summer webpage here.
We know the session changes may cause you to rethink attendance. We will continue to be flexible with options for you. We have COVID Frequently Asked Questions that will address most all of your concerns, from pre-camp to opening day and everything in between. Anna has developed a Financial Flow Chart to answer your questions about tuition payments. Additionally, we are providing an Attendance Intention Form that will allow you to consider different sessions, enrollment for next season, and refund opportunities if you are not able to attend Keystone this summer. We want you to be comfortable with your decision to send your daughter to camp.
We are trying to allow as many of our campers who want to attend camp to do so this year being mindful of increased distancing and smaller group sizes. Many of our three weekers are prohibited from attending the first session because of the limitation on states. We have had indications that the state restrictions will be lifted in Phase 3. If all of the data continues to trend downward, Phase 3 could open at the end of June. Some of our families from permitted states attending later sessions have offered to attend in the first session to open spots later in the summer for our June girls. Again, we are all in this together, and what a generous, thoughtful offer. We can make this work by supporting each other.
Please review our four attachments thoroughly:
The most essential piece of information we need from you as soon as possible will be the completed Enrollment Intention Form. We are asking that this be completed by the end of business on Friday. This information will allow us to put shape to our numbers in each session and in each cabin.
We share the emotional rollercoaster you are riding at the moment. What we are offering is a big change from our recent history (the last 36 years of my leadership), and it is a significant challenge in our very long 104 years of camping. COVID has tested our resilience, and on some days, we have been tested to our absolute limits. We are choosing to rise to the challenge. Is there a better lesson we can share with our girls? We love our girls, and we cherish the opportunity to work with them and to watch them grow. We want to do the very best we can for our girls during this time of COVID. Life is not without risk, but as our health director reminds us, we can mitigate that risk. We are not perfect. Camp will not be perfect, but if you are willing to accept our best efforts, we welcome you and your girls with elbow bumps.
With gratitude for your understanding and your support through this journey,
Page, Heidi, Anna, Mary-Elizabeth and Martha
Within the last few minutes, we received Interim Guidance for Overnight Camp Settings from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS). The operation of summer camps will be permitted in Phase 2 of North Carolina’s reopening plan. However, this comes with constraints. According to the most recent news conference by the Governor, there is every expectation that Phase 2 will begin next week on May 22nd, so there can be some form of a June session.
Phase 2 would last 4-6 weeks depending on the data collected by the state. If all continues in a positive direction, Phase 3 would begin as early as June 19th. NCDHHS has indicated that there would be no geographic restrictions on campers in Phase 3.
We ask that you read through the guidance very carefully, just as we are doing as I type this message. When I spoke with the state officials yesterday, they were very clear that our camper population is limited to our immediate contiguous states in Phase 2. This limit does not apply to our staff members, our counselors and our CITs. Thus, beyond North Carolina, this Phase 2 allows for campers from South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and Virginia. At this time these restrictions impact our June session only. We know this is very disappointing news for many of our June campers who live in other states. We are meeting now as we formulate our programs and plans around this state guidance. Our nursing director, Eleanor Mathews, is an integral part of our planning along with our camp doctor, Minerva Pineiro.
There is much to do, and much to consider with this breaking information. We know how eager you are to have definite answers to your questions. We are asking that you give us grace and allow us the rest of today, the weekend, and all day Monday to put shape to the summer. We will have our plan to you on Tuesday, May 19th, by 5 p.m. We are considering ways that we can accommodate the balance of our June girls in July and August. We know this information will impact your decisions about camp, and we want to provide you with a path forward that provides clear options from which you may choose. This will include moving sessions, rolling forward to 2021, tuition adjustments, tuition refunds, etc.
Please know that we are working as hard as we possibly can to formulate a plan to care for our campers and their families. We want to be able to give you good guidance and we want to be able to address your concerns and questions in the best way possible.
Due to the complexity of our considerations, we will be limited in our availability for phone and email correspondence prior to the release of our plan on Tuesday, May 19th by 5pm. Thank you for your patience and your grace.
Our hearts continue to be full of gratitude for our Keystone girls and their families. As we have heard over these past 10 weeks, we are all in this together, and that has never meant more to us.
We will be back in touch by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, May 19th.
Page, Heidi, Anna, Mary-Elizabeth and Martha
Happy Mother’s Day to all of the fabulous moms in our lives! There has never been a better time to thank mothers for all they do for their children, their families, and their communities. From Sophia Loren:
“A mother always thinks twice, once for herself and once for her child.”
North Carolina officially enters Phase 1 of reopening our economy at 5 p.m. this evening. This phase will run for the next 2 weeks, and ends at 5 p.m. on May 22nd. If the metrics continue in a positive direction, North Carolina would consider moving into Phase 2. Governor Cooper is specifically permitting the operation of day camps in Phase 1. He was very clear, though, that overnight camps were not permitted in Phase 1. I am sharing the specific language from this new Executive Order from May 5th:
What does this Executive Order mean for camps?
Day camps and programs for children and teens may operate only if they are in full compliance with the CDC’s guidance for these programs. Day camps may not allow sports except for those sports where close contact is not required, and any activities where campers cannot maintain at least a six foot distance from one another are not allowed. If a day camp is operating within a business, facility, or school that is closed per this Executive Order, the camp may operate but the location must otherwise remain closed to the general public. Overnight camps may not operate under Phase 1.
From a previous email to you, the original time frame placed on Phase 1 was 2-3 weeks. Phase 2 is proposed to last 4-6 weeks, and Phase 3 would then begin around the end of June. This is still assuming the best scenario of metrics. We have no indication from the state whether overnight camping would be considered in Phase 2 or Phase 3. We do know that Connecticut is permitting overnight camp, and Maine is in the process of negotiating their season start dates. The NC Youth Camp Association (NCYCA - nccamps.org) continues to be our primary advocate for our industry, and they are working non-stop with state leadership. The state understands that a mid-May decision is very important for camps and for their families. You need to know how to put shape to your family’s plans.
If your daughter’s session is not allowed to operate, we will contact you with specific options. We are considering many different scenarios for the summer that would allow us to serve as many of our girls as possible. We know how important camp is to your girls and to you after these many weeks of quarantine and uncertainty. However, we also realize that any change in dates or session lengths may impact you. We continue to hold our relationship with you as our most important tenet.
We have previously communicated that any account paid in full by May 15th for the 2020 season will be eligible for a full rollover to the 2021 season if you are not able to attend in 2020. Your account will be paid in full, and you will not be subject to any tuition increases for 2021. Having accounts paid at this time will obviously provide great assistance to Keystone.
We continue to work with our June 7th opening day in mind. We are eager to receive forms from you! Because of the complexities of life amid COVID-19, we have extended our health form policy from within 12 months of the start of camp to within 18 months of the start of camp. We do not want healthy campers going to the doctor’s office if not necessary right now. However, if there have been any recent illnesses (within 6 months of camp) or medical changes to your child’s health since your last health form was submitted we do ask that a new one is completed or updated by your provider. Most medical practices are offering tele-health visits and should be able to accommodate this request. Please remember to submit all of your medical forms, make sure immunizations are up to date and submitted, and review our medication policy before the start of camp. We believe that having a healthy camp starts at home and hope you will partner with us in this.
We took a couple of days this week to work outside around camp by painting cabins, transplanting hostas, clearing pathways and trimming branches. The physical labor was a welcome respite from the mental work we have been doing to prepare for camp amid COVID. One of the greatest things to do right now is to drive through the main gates of camp. The sense of peace and satisfaction as you approach the bridge, pass Overlook and reach Sleepy Hollow and the Phoenix is tremendous. Peonies and iris are in full bloom. The hostas are up, and the grass is at its greenest point. Spring is GLORIOUS, and it gives us hope.
Stay hopeful with us,
Page, Heidi, Anna, Mary-Elizabeth and Martha
I am a day early with our weekly message due to the fact that May 1st was our previous cancellation deadline. We are extending the cancellation deadline to June 1st. If you choose to cancel your camp registration anytime between now and June 1st, you will receive a refund of the tuition paid above the $1,000 deposit. Should we not be able to open camp, our cancellation policy remains as described in previous emails. We just wanted you to know that we continue to be as flexible as we possibly can in light of the many unknowns at this point.
With very heavy hearts, we did notify our Mother Daughter enrollees that we were cancelling both of the weekends scheduled in May. The Governor’s current orders do not allow for their operation, and even with an easing on May 8th, the proposed phasing does not permit groups over 10 by the second weekend. We have offered a substitute date at the end of the camp season, and we are also offering full refunds to those unable to attend the August weekend.
I was able to speak directly with the NC Department of Health and Human Services leadership earlier today. I continue to advocate for camp operations, and I do feel that the camp voice is being heard in Raleigh. Our state association, the NC Youth Camp Association (NCYCA), continues its advocacy work as well. The CDC is expected to release their summer camp recommendations tomorrow. These recommendations should help put shape to individual state policies. We have seen camp guidelines for 2020 operations from Connecticut, and the NCYCA continues to reach out to other state associations for the latest information. I am hoping all of this means that we will have actual decisions very soon. NCYCA has asked North Carolina to provide a decision on our June sessions by Friday, May 8th. We will let you know as soon as we hear something.
I know we are all exhausted by the uncertainty of our times and the crisis we are navigating. As many of you know, I am a collector of quotes, and my inspiration today comes from Henry Kissinger. He said, “There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.” I never thought I would find myself a kindred spirit with Henry Kissinger, but life does provide the unexpected.
We hope to begin putting shape to our summer and yours very soon,
Page, Heidi, Anna, Mary-Elizabeth and Martha
I was down in camp rather late last night, and a light was on in Skylark. We have been turning on water in the cabins, checking fire extinguishers and smoke detectors and making lists of leaking faucets, so having a light left on was not unusual. A light rain was falling with distant lightning, very much like we experience during camp. You could see the misty clouds settled low amongst the mountains, and I was immediately transported to the summer. I kept expecting to hear a door slam or laughter emanating from a cabin. I would never find myself alone at night in the middle of camp during the summer, so this moment was profound for me in many ways. Not having camp would be an extraordinary personal loss, and I know this loss would be shared with my staff, our counselors, our campers and our camp families.
With uncanny prescience, the New York Times offered this article today:
Is Summer Camp Canceled?
We continue to await guidance from the NC Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS). All public health operations are under this department, and we receive our inspections and communicable disease guidance from our local county public health departments.
In advance of receiving word from NCDHHS, the Governor of North Carolina, Roy Cooper, announced today that schools will remain closed for the balance of the school year. Yesterday, he put forth a plan for the reopening of our state:
Phase 2: (2-3 weeks after first phase)
Phase 3: (4-6 weeks after second phase)
If we try to guess the best-case scenario for the above proposal, we begin by assuming that the first phase will begin the week May 10th, just after the Governor’s newly extended stay at home order expires on May 8th. Phase 2 would begin at the very earliest on May 23rd, and Phase 3 would then come in the week of June 21st. I think it is prudent for us to add a week of grace into this schedule, which puts us at June 28th.
The NC Youth Camps Association has been very active in communications with our legislators, and Heidi and I both have been involved in many Zoom meetings on this issue. We know that the American Camp Association will have a plan in the hands of NCDHHS on May 1st for recommendations for summer camp operations. I continue to personally communicate with NCDHHS. The state knows we need an answer, and they are working diligently to provide one. I would expect to hear a decision by the time our current stay-at home-orders expires on May 8th.
We want to have camp as much as each of you. We build an intentional community at Keystone, and we each receive as much from being a part of this group as you. We often explain that we spend 9 months preparing for our 9 weeks of camp. There really is no down time to camping. We always want to do a better job for our girls with each passing summer. This year will look different, but we just don’t know what those differences might be. We will continue to share any updates we receive as soon as we are able.
We are each doing the very best we can each day living in a world of unknowns. A quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson seems appropriate for us all:
“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.”
We continue to be grateful for your patience and your support. We are all hanging on.
Page, Heidi, Anna, Mary-Elizabeth and Martha
Spring is in full glory around camp. Sunny days in the upper 60’s have lifted our spirits and gotten us outside. I am finding new blooms each day I am able to walk our trails. The High Ropes Course and the Zipline have received their annual inspections, and I just spent an hour with our maintenance director, Aaron, developing our priorities over the next few weeks. The swimming lake has been filled for the first time, and we will be hauling the waterslide out of storage soon!
We have all been fortunate to hear more positive conversations on the state and national levels about the potential of resuming meaningful activities. In my capacity as a local elected official, I have been privileged to participate in many state level phone calls and meetings. I know that our state public health administration is actively discussing summer camp operations. We will continue to be patient as we await their decision. There is no indication in any particular direction. I feel they understand the importance camp has in the lives of the children we serve. I have every confidence that these experts will make a decision that they feel serves our local community, our campers, and our staff members in the best way possible. The health and safety of our campers and our staff continues to be the highest priority we have at Keystone.
We have been receiving great feedback from our camp families on our outreach with camp challenges and virtual evening programs. The creativity that Mary-Elizabeth and Martha continue to generate is nothing short of AMAZING! Being a part of our Keystone Family is not something that happens just in the summertime. We value our connection, and we like to see it last for years, and generations. In fact, I noticed a cabin plaque from 1990 hanging in Fairview today as Aaron and I walked through for a maintenance check. Three of the six campers from that cabin have daughters who are current or former Keystone campers.
We aren’t going anywhere! We remain hopeful for the camp season, and you will hear from us as soon as we hear from the state officials. We thank you for your patience and understanding in these unprecedented times.
Page, Heidi, Anna, Mary-Elizabeth and Martha
A chilly Friday has greeted us here at Keystone. The day spent indoors has allowed me to start a project I have been wanting to do for years: I am photographing and cataloging all of the wildflowers we have on our property. I am hoping to have them categorized by bloom times. Any of your girls who have done a nature walk with me know how much I love flowers! Taking this time in the woods has given me the ability to reflect on how much joy and pride I have taken in my many years of running Keystone.
Like all of you, we are encouraged by the bits of positive news that are now hitting the press. Crystal balls still remain on back order, so we do not know where we will be in another 3-6 weeks, but we continue to be optimistic about the summer. Realistically, we are certainly considering many options of what camp might look like when we actually get to June. Our work continues to focus on our June 7th opening day. However, we are also running scenarios of a June 15th opening day. Additionally, we are considering how to navigate if we are allowed to have a total group size of 100 or 150 at camp since our typical full camp session including our staff is 200. Rest assured that when we have more information on what this would look like we will be in touch with the details. Our rollover options and our refund policies were presented in last Friday’s email. Please refer back to that correspondence for the specifics of what happens if camp is cancelled.
We would like to remind you that we will be making a decision no later than May 1st on our Mother-Daughter Weekends scheduled for May 15th and May 22nd. These are smaller groups than our normal camp sessions, so a lot will depend on the guidance we receive from public health officials. If a loosening of restrictions occurs, we may be able to host a group of 50 or 75, and this would possibly allow those weekends to move forward. It is possible that we might be able to offer a late summer or fall weekend if one or both of the May weekends are cancelled.
We also know that our older girls are concerned about what will happen to their place in our Leadership Program. If we are not allowed to operate camp this summer, our Leadership girls eligible to return in 2021 will maintain their place for all evaluations that are considered for the next level of leadership. Those who are Aides this year will receive a full refund of their tuition as they become employees as CITs for 2021. Those who are LITs this year would be considered Aides for next year. Those campers will be contacted directly in the fall with the next steps for 2021 if we are not able to operate this year.
We are truly grateful for your understanding of the many unique challenges presented by this current pandemic crisis. We want to be as truthful and transparent as we are able. We know you would like definitive answers. We would, too. We know that summer camps are on the list of considerations at the highest levels of North Carolina state government. Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson, the State Health Director and the Chief Medical Officer for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, made a specific reference to camps yesterday as part of a conference call with local government officials. She stated that her office is examining the benefits of camps opening along with the risks to inform their decision. If camps are allowed to operate, the state would provide guidance on safeguards to ensure safe and healthy operations this summer. As an American Camp Association (ACA) accredited camp, we are also aware that the ACA is working with epidemiologists and virologists to develop protocols for safe camp operations. The health and safety of your child has always been, and remains, our most important goal.
We join together in wishing you quality time, albeit over the internet, with family and friends this holiday season of Passover and Easter.
Page, Heidi, Anna, Mary-Elizabeth and Martha
We continue our work to prepare for our 104th summer season. Spring has arrived in a huge splash of color, and it warms all of our hearts to see the change in season and knowing that the promise of summer is just around the corner. Keystone has survived challenges before. In its long history, the only summer it did not operate was 1943 due to the rations of World War II. Keystone has seen the Great Depression, the Great Recession, polio and H1N1. Keystone is resilient, just as we teach our girls to be resilient.
Our staff has scattered to personal residences and are working remotely, but we continue to provide services to our families. Martha and Mary-Elizabeth are keeping our social media hopping with posts and events for our campers. Since Mary-Elizabeth and I live on the property, we both make it into the office each day through different doors and keep ourselves isolated in our offices.
I continue to search for a highly rated crystal ball that can advise us on the impact COVID-19 will have on the summer. We continue to try to address the many unknowns of this crisis, and we hope the following will address some of your concerns:
Will Keystone open this summer?
We continue to be optimistic that our summer season will run as scheduled. If we are not allowed to open, we will be making decisions on a session by session basis. We want to offer as much of our full summer as we are able. We know how much your girls are counting on camp! We still have over 9 weeks before our first opening day. A lot can change in a very short period of time, and we will keep you informed as we receive any new guidance.
I have only paid a partial amount for the summer. When is the balance due?
As of today, we are moving the final payment deadlines to the opening days of each of our sessions.
What happens if my daughter’s session is cancelled?
We are offering two options: You may roll your tuition forward to the 2021 season or you may receive a refund of fees paid less the $200 processing fee. As a small, private business, we would be grateful to those who are able to roll their tuition forward to next summer. Keystone has long demonstrated its commitment to you as good stewards of the funds you invest with us. Each year, we make substantial investments during the off-season in capital improvements and program enhancements. We have ongoing expenses of payroll, health insurance and basic operations that continue throughout the year. If you are able to roll your tuition forward to next season, you would be helping Keystone weather this unprecedented challenge.
Any family who has paid in full by May 15, 2020, and chooses to roll their tuition forward will be considered paid in full for 2021 for the same session. You will avoid any cost of living increase in the tuition for the 2021 season. If you want to change to a different session, you would still pay the 2020 rate for the new session and your final payment will be adjusted by the difference. After rolling your tuition forward, if you need to cancel for the 2021 season, you would receive a full refund less the deposit until February 1, 2021.
What if Keystone is open this summer, but I need to cancel my daughter?
If you are unable to attend camp this summer and need to cancel, we are extending our refund policy to May 1st from the original February 1st. We will offer to refund fees paid less the deposit. All other policies regarding cancellations due to illness remain in effect.
We love your girls. We love the opportunity to share camp with them, and we value the experiences we share with them. Camp changes lives. It instills confidence. It teaches resilience and problem solving. It builds community. We are all better because of each other and what we share together. We are leaning on all of these lessons we have learned from camp as we face each day. We are imperfect humans, and we are doing the best we can in the face of profound unknowns. Our relationships with you, our Keystone families, remain paramount. Thank you for your patience and understanding in these challenging times.
Page, Heidi, Anna, Mary-Elizabeth and Martha
Preparations for our summer season continue full speed ahead. Our primary goal is to provide you with the value you expect from Keystone. I am so proud of the creativity my staff has shown in engaging our camp community. Martha and MED have been offering virtual evening programs over Zoom, lots of videos and challenges on Instagram, and we are encouraging snail mail letter writing with friends. Our summer staff are joining in on these hangouts and chats as well. Martha and MED have generated a two page list of Virtual EPs to come! If you need more information on how to connect, just let us know.
The world news of the week has been nothing but tumultuous. We are so grateful to be in the mountains of North Carolina with a record setting warm March day full of sunshine and flowers. Being able to walk the roads through camp certainly lifts my spirits and gives us hope that the camp season will open as scheduled on June 7th. We are committed to the summer. The ONLY reason camp would not open would be under mandate from our government.
For clarification, we have moved our payment deadline to May 15th, and this may be subject to change to a later date. Between now and then, we are not processing any payments. If you are on a monthly payment plan, you will not be charged until May 15th at the earliest, and we will not make any charges without providing notification in advance.
Some of you may be enrolled for one of our Mother-Daughter Weekends. Here again, we remain optimistic as our first one is not until May 15th. We will evaluate the status of these programs on May 1st.
The trip insurance that has been offered to you as part of your original application or more recently as an add-on is through a third-party provider. We are not insurance agents, and we hesitate to answer insurance related questions. Please be patient with the insurance company. They are overwhelmed and will get back to you as soon as they are able. We are experiencing a 4 day lag time between our inquiry to them and their response.
We are working remotely, but we are here for you. There may be a slight delay in our responses to you, but you remain our top priority. We will continue our communication on a weekly basis to keep you informed on our every step.
We continue to be thankful for the incredible support you continue to provide to us as we navigate the many unknowns of our current times.
Page, Heidi, Anna, Mary-Elizabeth and Martha
We want to continue to reassure you that our highest priority is our commitment to our families. We are sure that we can all agree that the only constant in our world right now is uncertainty as we navigate uncharted territory. We would all like definitive answers of what tomorrow, next week or next month will bring, but there are no answers. In an effort to help you in the short-term, we are extending our deadline for final payments to May 15th. We continue with our planning and preparations for our 104th season opening on June 7th.
We continue to reflect on the role camps played during the polio crisis in the 1940’s. Children were sent to camps to remove them from concentrated populations in urban areas. The fresh air and wide open spaces served them well. Thanks to our strong public health program in North Carolina, camps have so many measures in place to mitigate viral and bacterial outbreaks. We sleep “head to toe” in all of our beds so that when a cough or a sneeze happens on the top bunk, any mist would fall on the feet of the person below. Strict sanitation standards are maintained in shared spaces and in our food service. We have experience in limiting exposure in our community.
We shared information about the availability of trip insurance yesterday. Trip insurance is available from a third party provider. For any questions, please contact the company directly. We are not able to answer questions about the trip insurance policies or your individual coverage. The contact information for TravMark is: email@example.com or by phone at 1-212-683-4394.
As a result of the trip insurance email, we have received questions about our business insurance: “Does Keystone not have an insurance policy in place to protect against an unforeseeable circumstance that prevents you from being able to hold camp? This same question is being posed by millions of individuals and business owners, not just camp owners and their customers, right now. The short answer is, “No.”
The standard business income insurance policies require for there to be a direct physical loss that changes the physical characteristics of the business. For camps, that would mean losing our dining hall to fire, or some other physical loss. The presence of a virus on a surface or in the air does not change the physical characteristics such that repair to our real property is required. Without this, there is no property damage and no basis for a business income coverage claim.
The camp insurance markets do offer a small sub-limit of communicable disease business income coverage, and we do have this sub-limit. However, this insurance provides only a small fraction of our annual operating expense to carry Keystone through the time it is shuttered. Additionally, in order for this coverage to be realized, all 3 of the following must be met concurrently:
Our entire operation must be shut down, and The closure must be the result of an outbreak at our premises, and The closure must be either ordered or recommended by any local, state, or Federal Department of Health or other governmental authority having jurisdiction over our camp. In our commitment to you, if we are forced to close by government mandate, we are working on a plan to have a combination of refunds and rolling monies forward to future summers. What exactly that will look like is still in flux due to the ever-changing landscape. Please hear that we are continuing to serve you in the best possible way we are able. We are also working to ensure that Keystone will be here to serve families for another 104 years.
Page, Heidi, Anna, Mary Elizabeth and Martha
It is my intention to provide weekly updates to you as we navigate our way through the current health crisis. We expect to operate for our full season this summer, and we are working diligently to establish preventative measures that will serve our camp community well.
The NC Youth Camps Association is holding a symposium on COVID-19 on Friday, March 27th. Our staff will be in attendance along with the entire camp community in our region. The symposium will feature an infectious disease doctor from our local hospital, public health officials, our insurance company, our attorney and representatives of the American Camp Association. As many of you know, I also serve as the Vice-Chair of the Transylvania County Board of Commissioners here in Transylvania County. I am fortunate to participate in the latest briefings provided by our state and federal government. Our approach to this situation will be guided by the most timely information and data available.
In the meantime, we feel very fortunate to have our Nursing Director, Eleanor Mathews, a Keystone camper herself and the parent of a current camper, working with multiple agencies to stay abreast of all recommendations and expectations. Eleanor attends our weekly staff meetings here at camp, and we had a very productive meeting yesterday. We covered topics including screening procedures as campers arrive for opening day, sanitation measures to incorporate into our summer operations, and consideration of isolation in place for any disease occurrence. We are already ordering additional sanitizing wipes, sprays and medications that will assist in virus containment and on-site treatment. Eleanor will be adding additional nurses on our opening days to complete a thorough health screening of each camper prior to their joining their cabin groups. We receive an annual health inspection from our county public health department where our sanitation operations are scrutinized. We consistently receive a letter grade of “A” for our operations, and we have a close working relationship with all health officers in our county public health department.
The health and safety of your girls is of critical importance of what we offer at Keystone. We look forward to working together with you to have a safe, healthy summer for all of our Keystone community.
We have no doubt that the COVID-19 virus and its potential impact on the upcoming camp season is on your mind as it weighs heavily on ours. There are so many unknowns at this point. We are engaged with our local Public Health Department, the NC Youth Camp Association and our own medical staff as more information on COVID-19 is learned with each passing day.
The Swine Flu outbreak in 2009 presented a similar challenge to us. At that time, we instituted a protocol to screen incoming campers while they were still in their cars. If the girls passed the temperature check, we then continued with our standard medical screening. The summer passed without any occurrence of the virus at camp.
As a small business, we are not able to refund tuition, nor can we roll the payments forward to a future summer. Our expenses are not isolated to the 3 months we have children here. I do not intend for this to sound harsh or insensitive, but it is the reality of our industry. We have spent our off-season investing in several large projects including a cabin renovation and the reconstruction of 2 other cabins. These projects alone account for nearly $200,000 in spending. Additionally, many of our equipment acquisitions for the summer have been received and the bills have been paid.
We take some comfort in knowing that healthy children are the least impacted by the COVID-19 virus. Additionally, if we cancel all camp dances and prevent our staff from leaving our grounds, we become an isolated community. Our session lengths are such that we have the ability to meet the 14-day quarantine criteria. We are in the process of working with our insurance company to understand the remedies available to us if the Public Health Department, the state government or the federal government step in and force us to close.
The honor and reputation of Keystone Camp over its 104 year history means absolutely everything to me. If we are unable to provide the camp session expected by you and your family, we will work as diligently as we are able to heal the situation. I am just not in a position at this moment to provide the specific details of what that might look like. This does remind me, though, that life is incredibly unpredictable and challenging. At these times, we lean on each other and work together to find a solution that serves our entire community well.
We will provide additional information and updates as we learn more. We are grateful for your patience and your understanding in this very uncertain time.