What a difference a few weeks can make. As I look back to the beginning of March – which seems more like several months ago and not just several weeks – we were busy getting campers registered and hiring our last few staff members for summer camp 2020. We had youth groups filling the property, and my biggest worry was whether or not we would get any rain.
Well, we never did get any rain, but even more sad is that the camp is currently closed to all visitors. We have assigned a small group of staff to maintain the facilities and a security detail to monitor the property, but the only kids on property are the baby sandhill cranes.
We’ve cancelled all youth and Smith Center groups through May 1. We will continue to evaluate the situation week by week and will cancel groups in May as needed at least three weeks in advance, but it’s not looking good. The earliest we are scheduling new reservations or tours is Aug. 3.
Summer camp is also up in the air. Right now, we are leaving registration open and are not canceling any sessions. If we need to cancel sessions of camp, we will begin doing so May 1. I won’t lie to you; while I remain hopeful for a miracle, it doesn’t look like we will be able to have “normal” camp for the first time in 25 years. But if you think that means your youth camp staff is just going to sit back and binge watch our entire collection of Disney movies, you’ve got another thing coming! Along with our normal preparations for summer camp, we are also developing several new types of camp that would still allow us to provide a camp experience even if we can’t have kids on property. I’ll list what we’ve got in mind below, but keep an eye on our website for the posting of any official decisions at floridaelks.org/camp.
Depending on restrictions related to COVID-19, here are several potential versions of summer camp 2020. First, if it’s simply a matter of waiting longer, we may just have a shortened season. For instance, we may only run weeks 4-7 in July and skip those in June altogether.
Second, if we can’t have kids come to the camp at all but we are allowed to have small groups of people who can travel, we will have a mobile camp plan. Our friends at the Florida Sheriff’s Youth Ranches already do this every summer, and we are working with their director to develop our own version. This type of plan would allow us to transport small groups of our staff to various neighborhoods around the state of Florida to provide appropriate day camp sessions for kids right where they live.
Third, if we’re unable to have kids come to camp at all and we’re also unable to have even small groups of people gather together away from camp, we are developing a virtual summer camp program. With this plan, our staff and campers would all remain home but still be assigned “cabins” each week. Our administrative staff would then coordinate with our counselors to utilize various social media platforms to interact with their campers each day. We would also be busy creating video here at camp of our normal activities to send out to the kids stuck at home.
Regardless of which plan we utilize this summer, our mission will remain the same – to mold the next generation into adults we would be proud to have as American citizens. And as this year will likely be a pivotal moment in their development, it is our responsibility to reach them and to help them through it.
With that said, it won’t just be your summer camp staff who will impact this generation. This is an unprecedented event in the lives of our youth, and our response to it will make a lasting impression. As Elks, it is crucial that we take this opportunity to impress upon this generation what it truly means to be an American. Yes, we may be a stubborn and opinionated people and we can get ugly with each other when it comes to issues like politics. However, we are also compassionate, brave and resourceful. And as with past tragedies – the World Wars, the Great Depression, 9/11 – when we are put to the test, we will stand united, and we will not give way.
So, let us show these kids what it means to be an American, and let’s show America what it means to be Elks.
Be safe and well.
Nick Miller, Director
Florida Elks Youth Camp