Devotions at Camp are an opportunity at the end of the day to reflect back on the experiences we’ve had. To make meaning of events, to find the learnings, and to figure out how to do it better the next time.
“Tell me how we worked together,” a counselor may ask her cabin. “When did we take care of each other? Did something unexpected happen that tested our character, caused us to adjust our course? Did we show respect when our cabin won the tournament? Did we hold our heads up when we didn’t? Were the winds strong enough to blow us off course? What was it like to capsize your Sunfish? Why was it important to get back in?”
As we track toward the closing days of 2020, there is certainly no shortage of events for our reflection.
The Start of 2020
The year started as it typically does. January brought a heightened excitement as we prepared for the upcoming spring and summer program seasons and solidified plans for Camp Night travel in cities across the country to see and connect with many of you. We also celebrated the success of surpassing our Camp Annual Campaign goal and the generosity of our Camp Family.
And then things started to change. The wind began to pick up. We canceled an in-person meeting with the Camp Advisory Board. We contacted our Camp Night hosts and told them how sorry we were that we wouldn’t be traveling this spring. Like many of you, we began working from home.
By early March, it was evident that this was no typical year. Expense management and workforce adjustments were our new reality, so we did what we knew how to do: We checked our life jackets. We checked on our crew and got our bearings. We freed the sheet and made sure the daggerboard didn’t float away. We reminded ourselves that you can’t change the wind, but you can adjust your sails.
Arriving at “Scenario Q”
We recognized that this moment called for definitive action. In response, we formed what became known as our “Blue Ribbon Medical Committee”, a collection of experts in the fields of epidemiology, virology, and pediatrics. Professionals who could help us navigate a complex COVID landscape and who also knew our YMCA Association and specifically the unique environment of Sea Gull and Seafarer.
With the leadership of this medical committee and in conjunction with guidance from national, state, and local health agencies, as well as the American Camp Association, our Director Teams began the challenging work of preparing for the summer. Collectively, we refer to this period as “scenario planning,” and you would be proud of the “behind the scenes” efforts of the staff to work through all the options. As Camp Directors, we would ask for options A, B, and C, only to need a revised version of D, E, and F days later based on a shift in the guidance. As a team we now laugh that we ultimately ended up on option Q. “Let’s run that option out,” was a popular phrase during the time. There was permission to create and innovate as we had never seen before.
That innovation certainly comes with challenges, especially under a time crunch, so we made sure to encourage each other along the way. We referenced Brene Brown podcasts often and asked each other to “name it” – to be fully transparent about how we were showing up to a particular conversation or what was on our mind.
We invoked a favorite “Thought for the Day” from the late Seafarer Camp Director Judy Bright, “You can’t walk uphill by thinking downhill thoughts.” Author Tod Bolsinger’s words charged us to take care of each other – “The primary way we prepare for the unknown is to attend to the quality of our relationships.” We talked about being adaptive. Resilient. Resisting the urge to return to normal, but rather re-emerging stronger, better.
And we leaned on our faith. “Be a lamp to my feet and a light to my path,” the Psalm told us. We weren’t asking for the full picture all at once, but guidance on the next step.
A Different Kind of Summer
By late May, the program plan for Summer 2020 had come into focus, and we were ready to communicate with parents of enrolled campers and our broad Camp community. The decision to “tack away” from a traditional summer at Sea Gull and Seafarer was one of the hardest decisions we’ve ever had to make. We know, however, that the right decision is often the difficult one. If we’re about the safety and the well-being of the community – our campers, staff, Camp families, as well as the community in which Camp is located, then the choice becomes obvious.
Despite not being able to deliver our full programs, we did welcome a number of our older campers and CILTs from both Camps to Sea Gull for two, two-week sessions of S.A.I.L., an acronym for Sea Gull and Seafarer Adventures in Leadership. Campers and staff arrived grateful for the opportunity to reconnect with friends and be in a place that felt like home, even though some elements looked a little different. We “buffed” up with our face coverings, ate buffet style in the Mess Hall, learned about leadership, and laughed a lot at the first (and hopefully not the last) annual Sea Gull and Seafarer Lip Sync Competitions.
One of our volunteer physicians who served a week at S.A.I.L. this summer put it best. “It dawned on me that what we have here is as close to the original vision of Sea Gull and Seafarer as I’ve ever seen. When you peel back all the layers, you’re left with the core. Counselors serving as role models for young people, utilizing the activities as a vehicle for character development. Strong friendships, skill development, leadership development, and fun. That’s exactly what these places were meant to be.”
Just up the river at Seafarer, we delivered six five-day experiences called Embark Family Camp. Just like the S.A.I.L. campers, Embark families arrived overjoyed for the opportunity to be at Camp. It was a welcomed break from the routine. A change of scenery. More than that, though, it was an opportunity to do what we were built to do. To be in a relationship with each other. To belong to a caring community. Said best in the words of a happy parent, “Thank you for saving our summer!”
The creative and innovative spirit continued into the fall. Camp Windward provided the opportunity for families to work and do school from Camp in a gorgeous setting, with meals provided, and activities in the afternoon. Coastal Cabin Rentals kicked off soon after as an opportunity to enjoy Camp at a slower pace. The Scholastic Learning Center in Taylor Lodge at Seafarer provided working parents in Pamlico County a reliable, safe, enriching option to make life manageable while virtual school was the reality.
Camp Annual Campaign
By the end of our program season, the financial picture for the year was becoming clear, and we communicated an operational gap of $8.5 million with a goal to raise $3 million by December 31, 2020. We had doggedly managed expenses. We had successfully delivered roughly 20% of our traditional program offerings and innovated to deliver new ones.
Parents were generous with the donation of program fees. Young Alumni kicked off a strong response to the 48 Hour Giving Challenge. And through the continued generosity of our Camp family, we anticipate reaching our goal. With the support of our Y Association, we won’t have to take on any long-term debt. On the heels of recovery from Hurricane Florence two years ago, the priority remains to aggressively replenish reserves and fund deferred maintenance, while focusing on delivering program excellence in all of our seasons.
We will strive to offer as much financial assistance as possible, although there is always more need than resources available. On behalf of the staff, we are truly grateful and feel immense gratitude for the support of our Camp family.
On the Horizon
As we look ahead to the horizon, there is optimism and a continued sense of gratitude. Enrollment for 2021 is strong and preparation for the program season is well underway. We continue to rely on guidance from health agencies, and we have once again convened the “Blue Ribbon Medical Committee” to help us navigate the evolving landscape.
While much is yet to be determined, but here’s what we know:
We remain committed to the safety and well-being of everyone in the camp community.
Children and families need the life-changing impact that a Camp experience provides, whether that’s for one week, two weeks, four weeks, or a weekend.
We know we will continue to follow the guidance and consider every resource available to implement protocols that create a safe, impactful, and fun experience for campers and families this upcoming season.
And we know you should always check your lifejacket and check on the crew. Get back in and keep sailing. Be grateful. We wish you all the blessings of this holiday season and look forward to staying in touch with you in the weeks and months ahead.
In the Sea Gull and Seafarer Spirit,
John Hyde and Mary Laurence Crook