In my last article, we were getting ready to start week 5 of summer camp 2022. If you’ll remember, we had to cancel week 4 due to a statewide influenza A outbreak. The camp was deep cleaned, all campers were tested for Influenza A and B upon arrival, and all of our staff members who had been down with the flu recovered and were ready for duty. Well, all of these preparations during our week without campers paid off in that we didn’t have any more outbreaks of flu. However, nothing is ever easy.
We had a great check-in for week 5. Between those coming on buses and those who checked in at camp, we caught four cases of influenza A and rescheduled those campers for the later weeks. We had relatively few kids go home sick at all that week, and of those who did, none tested positive for flu! By the start of week 6, however, several parents of those sick kids reached out to us and let us know that the kids eventually tested positive for COVID.
Let’s all take a moment to “face-palm” here. That’s right. We’d made it through four weeks of the flu just to run headlong back into COVID. So, by the middle of week 6, we had more cases of COVID showing up. Luckily, we’d learned hard lessons in 2020 and 2021, and this was not as scary as it had been in the past. We knew the kids were at low risk of serious illness, and we knew that we were equipped with policies and facilities that could mitigate a lot of the risk.
Instead of preemptively sending home every staff member and camper who was exposed to someone with COVID, we only sent home those with symptoms. Campers in cabins of those who were exposed but had no symptoms were allowed to stay, with parent approval. While these cabins of kids were able to participate in all the regular camp activities, they were isolated from cabins who had not been exposed. In the end, this worked out very well. We had very minimal transmission of COVID from one camper to another, and the parents and campers who were allowed to stay were very happy with the arrangement.
I commented in my last article that I was incredibly impressed with the staff of summer camp 2022. I will reiterate it here. The mental toughness and fortitude that they exhibited while working under the additional stress of flu and COVID and isolating and quarantining were absolutely heroic. Throughout the summer, without fail, they put the needs of the campers first, and I am incredibly proud of each of them who stuck it out to the end and provided such memorable experiences for our kids.
Speaking of memorable, after a two-year hiatus, we finally had a week 7, or military week, again. And what better way to welcome back the dependents of our active and inactive military families than with soldiers on duty at camp and with fireworks! After eight years of separation, we have finally renewed our partnership with the Florida National Guard. This year, 15 soldiers were assigned duty at the camp for our military week. These soldiers assisted our staff with day-to-day activities with the campers, provided educational sessions from their counter-drug program and even held a formal flag-lowering ceremony. They were also a huge boost of energy for our staff after a long, tiring summer and a comforting sight for campers with deployed parents or family members. We look forward to continuing this partnership next summer and hopefully beyond.
All in all, we had an incredible summer. We saw 1,548 campers over the six sessions of camp. This is down from our all-time high of 2,337 campers in 2019, but we also had seven full sessions that year. I fully expect us to be back to full strength for summer camp 2023. So, be sure to spread the word that we’ll be filling up quickly again. Camper registration will open Dec. 1, and staff hiring is already open.
Outside of summer camp, we have seen a welcome return of groups that we’ve missed over the last two years. Florida’s Muscular Dystrophy Association returned the week after we finished camp to again host their summer camp with us. Sixty children and volunteer staff members from across the state returned for a weeklong session of camp. This is down from their 2019 number of nearly 200, but after this successful run, they are expecting to continue to rebound to their previous numbers. The Children’s Burn Foundation of Florida will also be returning this fall. This group has been attending camp at the Florida Elks Youth Camp for more than 15 years and serves children across the state who have suffered severe burn injuries. Finally, we’re also looking forward to having our Florida Elks Children’s Therapy Services back for Family Camp! In just a couple of weeks, families served by our therapists from across Florida will travel to camp for a long weekend of activities and relaxation. It is an amazing opportunity to see both of your major projects in action at once, and Colleen Gallant and I will be sure to have plenty of pictures and videos for you at the midyear convention.
Thank you for all that you do as Florida Elks, and thank you for the opportunity to serve as your Youth Camp Director. I look forward to seeing you at upcoming tours of the camp or at the midyear convention. Stay safe!