A Summer Without Camp

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S1: Around this time of year, usually Lisa Handelman is getting ready to relocate for the summer, we’d be packing our bags, packing the bags, packing the car.

S2: How can you office starting to move up to camp.

S1: Lisa runs a Jewish summer camp in rural Pennsylvania. She’s worked there for over a decade. She’s so familiar with her annual trip north that she can close our eyes and recreate it in her head.

S3: First the highway, then a little field of corn, and then there’s a certain point or you round a corner and there are hills in the background. And for me, that’s the first. I’m almost there. As you’re getting there, a little library is our is our landmark. A little sort of small town library that we turn right at. I’m not one of these people that that sings publicly, can’t carry a tune. But I do often find myself kind of like singing one of our camp songs. And it just feels, I don’t know, it just feels like you’re your home.

S4: I’m not a camp person, but Lisa. She makes me want to be one.

S5: Yeah, I’m camp. Your camp.

S1: So how many kids usually go your capital camps each year?

S2: So we have. Eight hundred plus kids. We got up to a thousand kids, depends on the year. This summer we were expecting a little bit over eight hundred. What do you think that’s going to be now if we’re camp? It’s really hard to say because we’re right at a point right now where we’re trying to decide open, not open.

S6: So you hear good news and then you hear not so good news and then you hear more is not so good news and you’re trying to figure out how we can possibly make this happen.

S7: But at the end of the day, it has to be safe. And it’s not looking so good at the moment.

S8: Today on the show. What about camp? Millions of American kids participate in this ritual of summer each year. But this novel coronavirus has got camp directors like Lisa worried about their kids health and also about whether they’ll be able to stay in business. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick with us.

S1: When are you going to make a call about whether you’re going to open up anywhere from any day now to the next two weeks?

S2: So we are going to need to make a call by the end of May. There are a lot of factors and things it feels like you’re you’re aiming at are a moving target. But. We don’t know. I mean, the two things that would sort of decide it for us is whether we’re illegally can be there, whether the state of Pennsylvania and the jurisdiction we’re in, which is Franklin County, open up and whether we can do it safely. And as of like last Friday, they were possibly opening up and they’re not opening up.

S1: It’s that kind of it’s back and forth a lot. So, Lisa, I. I was looking you up and I found this form on your camp’s Web site, and it’s like a note from the time before. It’s from February or March. It’s like a it’s a note about a road show. You were going on to basically meet families and, you know, introduce yourself. You are having an event at your house to be like, hey, here’s what camp is all about, you know, and this is right as the corona virus was taking off in this country. Did you actually have any of those meet ups?

S2: We did. So. So my I started at camp 16 summers ago as I was brought on to help create our disability inclusion program. And then over the years, I did a number of other jobs. But this year is the first year I took on the responsibility. I mean, the camp director. Oh, my gosh. What a year. Yeah. Not the greatest timing in terms of years for this transition. But I took on my role as the new camp director, mid-February. And it was a lot of the community was wonderful. And the kids know. I’ve been at camp for a long time. I got a very positive response. Well, I’ve a parent. They’re like my kids know you. This is great. We’re so glad you’re gonna be the director. And the virus at that point was very much in the background.

S1: When did you first start thinking, oh, maybe this year will be different?

S2: As soon as we decided to move to remoted home, we knew something was gonna be different. We would do this DrippiN in the beginning of March and then the next week, we decided that our office should all go remote. We also have work camp, a retreat center. So we started getting some cancellations of retreats around that time. I remember seeing going to one of the synagogues that had to retreat and they said, oh yeah, we’re still going to make it happen. And then two days later they did it. So things were sort of happening in real time and it was sort of sinking in that this was real. As things were happening and I, I all along, I thought, OK, we can do this. We can do this. And it became more and more problematic.

S1: Yeah, I mean, do you still have that optimism?

S7: I think I’m a born optimist, but it’s getting hard to hold on to that. Camp and camp directors are really good at problem solving.

S2: We’re really good at coming up with a zillion 11 different strategies. I think we’ve come up with any and every possible strategy collaboratively within the camping industry of every possible way to have camp. The idea of not having camp is something we’re not good at. So that’s a lot harder to get my head around.

S1: Why do you think it is that camps are good at pivoting in this way?

S2: I think if you have an environment where you have kids, you have counselors, counselors are young adults. There’s a lot of. What’s called informal education going on, where you have to pivot all the time and you’re out outside and you have something that would be great on a sunny day, and then suddenly it rains. And even this idea of sort of safety first is always a threat. So you have kids that are camping out or hiking out and you’re watching the weather app and making sure there’s no thunderstorm coming. And we have a tent village for our rising 10th graders and I really bad storms. We move them from their tents to the bath house and really, really bad storm as we move on from the bath house up to sort of our retreat center.

S1: Yeah. I mean, I’m thinking about what you’re saying. Like, my kid went to camp last year. Things just go wrong. It’s like whether it’s the weather or like a counselor has to leave or things happen and you have to adjust.

S2: But I think it’s less things that necessarily go wrong. You adjust it a little bit more like improv. You catch the ball and you do something with it. And I think camps are just good at that. And so we’re we’re used to that on the ground shifting because that’s how we live all summer. So we’ve been sort of in that mode. We joke sometimes that camp is a marathon and you can’t do it as a sprint because there’s just so much happening. The last couple of weeks have felt that pace like we’re at camp and it’s feeling a little too sprint, like not marathon enough that there’s a lot of decisions, a lot of pivoting happening constantly. And so it feels almost like emotionally we’re at camp in terms of that pace.

S4: So we’re talking mid-May.

S1: Last week, the CDC and the American Camp Association came out with some sort of beginning guidelines for what should be happening at camp. What are they saying?

S2: So. We’re waiting for them to come out with all their guidelines. So a lot. Now, some of the first ones that came up, we’ll talk about screening, talk about supplies you have to buy. Talk about the health care, health facilities and those kind of things. They haven’t yet come up with the ones that say, how do you run activities? What should the pool look like, the other aspects of camp.

S1: So this is like a real time limit. Come in. Yes.

S2: And it changes. It changes momentarily.

S1: Wow. Has there been any guidance from the state of Pennsylvania?

S2: So. And that also changes. Everything seems to change. So about a week ago, Pennsylvania would stay declare that some regions will be able to open up and others would not. And the county that we’re were in was told that they were not allowed to open up. But the county felt that they should open up. So they they talked to the governor and it was a little bit of who’s going to win that. And it turned out that the governor won. And currently, as of Friday, we the area we are in is still considered red.

S1: So you just don’t know because you’re waiting on all of these people to make decisions. And sometimes it looks good. And then someone comes in and overrules that person. And you’re just kind of left waiting.

S2: Yes. But at the end of the day, we’re going to make the decision on whether on two things, whether it can’t can be safe. That is the main decision. Can we do with these restrictions? Can we make camp safe because we can’t make camp say if you can’t camp? And then the other one that we’ve been talking about more recently is eat. If we could do all the restriction, will camp be calm? You know, there’s a point when you start reading these restrictions of kids wearing face masks and kids not being able to interact. And there was something the other day about each kid would have to have their own sort of magic marker and they couldn’t share a bucket full of magic markers. And camp is all about community. It’s all about relationships, and it’s all about coming together. And there was a point in which. That doesn’t exist anymore. When there’s when it’s not safe to exist in that way.

S1: What are the calls like with parents? Can you take me inside some of the parent calls?

S2: So I would say I’ve been having two types of parent calls. One is the parent that’s come to the decision that their child can’t come for a variety of reasons. I talked to parents who said I talked to my pediatrician and my child has as one, it wouldn’t be safe for them to come. Other parents talk about two children, one that has compromised medical condition and one that doesn’t. And they said, I just can’t see sending one kid and not another. So there’s parents that have just I think they’re calling to express their pain. And I think they’re asking for me to close. And then I’ll get the next phone call and I’ll have parents that say thank you for not closing yet. Thank you for continuing the hope my child would be devastated. So it’s a little bit of a ping pong ball. Like one minute you talk to a. That’s one way. And then the next minute you talk to a parent that’s on the other end.

S1: Hmm. Are they asking for refunds?

S2: We definitely got a handful of parents that have asked for refunds. Not as many as you would expect. We did pretty early. I think around April 20th or so, we sent out a letter that said to parents, if we have to close, we will be going back to you with three choices we’d love if you donated what you paid for camp. We would love if you would roll over your tuition for next year. And if you need it, we will figure out a way to give you a refund. The reality is no camps out there and ours is not an exception. Have sitting in the bank enough to give every single person every refund back. That’s not how camps work. Camps start spending the money for the summer as the money comes in the August before. So it’s it doesn’t all exist. So that that part’s a little scary. We are going to get to this other side of it. I’m not 100 percent sure. Maybe again, my optimism in my camp Mike camp personality. But at the end of the day, we are going to make a decision based on safety, not US finances. And we’re going to kind of trust that our community is so strong that we’re going to get to the other side of it. Don’t ask me exactly how, but we get to young. We’re going to get to the other side because camp is just too important. Capital camps. My camp. And just camping in general is just too important not to get to the other side of this.

S1: But it is scary. Yeah. Last week, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who was the former FDA commissioner, he was quoted talking about camp and he’s talking about his own kids and what he would do or not do. And he said, sleep away camp. He had this idea that sleepaway camp could be a bubble, you know, and in some ways, he’d rather send his children to a sleep away camp than a day camp because you could create a bubble. There was kind of curious to get your response to this, because I heard a couple different responses, people saying it. That’s not possible anywhere. But then people also saying, yeah, exactly. That’s right. So I’m curious, as a camp director, what you think about that.

S2: So it it’s interesting in a way, when he mentioned the camp bubble, every time I hear people mention idea, they’re mentioning ideas that everybody already thought about. It’s really interesting that we’re all thinking about the same thing. So we came up with a zillion scenarios. And yes, camp is a bubble was what we called one of our scenarios. And then also true, what some people have said, that you can’t have a perfect, perfect bubble. So when we imagine a camp is a bubble, we said, OK, work, we’re canceling all trips out of camp. We’re canceling. We don’t usually have visitors, but we sometimes have some people that come. They’re not coming in. We often have a retreat, retreats, not happening. Our counselors that usually have a day off aren’t going to leave camp to go on a day off. We’re going to let them stay in our retreat center. They’re not going to be able to go on their night off, down to the local sheets and get a Slurpee or something. We’re going to bring in some extra snack. You know, we thought of how much bubbled we could make it. So I understand that concept of bubbling camp. And at that time, our medical director was saying, yeah, this is this would be better than a day camp. Let’s go it coming and going. The other is true. You can’t have a complete bubble. There are some people that are gonna have to come and go. So I think in my mind, a bubble was a level of risk that that balanced and made it as safe as we thought at the time might be possible. It’s the same thing we’re doing in my house, like we are bubbled in our house. But my husband goes to work. Somebody goes to this grocery store. You bring in take out every once in a while. So camp, there’s no such thing as a as a bubble with no movement in and out. But you can limit it to a tool. Certain degree and for a while that felt safe.

S1: Sounds like you don’t think it feels safe anymore.

S2: We’re hearing now, even within those bubbles, 10 kids. And even if you put 10 kids in a bunk, they can’t necessarily. Again, they can’t sleep with a facemask on if they’re sleeping, even if you do toe to head sleeping, that was recommended. Is that really going to keep them safe enough? I think there’s a lot of levels of bubble we can put on. But if we’re talking to the point where even those 10 kids, you know, can’t share, you know, magic markers or can’t put their arms around each other or can’t in the lake, in the pool, we always have buddies and you have to be near your buddy. If we can’t do those things, even within our bubble, it doesn’t really matter. We can bubble everybody.

S1: What do you think you will be able to do this summer? Are there other things you’re thinking of?

S2: So all along we’ve been talking about keeping our community connected one way or another so we can’t do it in person. We’re going to continue and expand on connection connections virtually, which is not virtual camp, because I don’t think camp can be virtual, but you can stay somewhat connected. And there was a marshmallow over zoom. No, you cannot wear the marshmallow over a zoom. And you can’t have these intimate conversations that happen when you’re walking from point A to point B. You can’t have those moments of connective ness and zoom, but you still need that if you can’t have. Can’t we still need to connect. We still just see each other.

S1: I love that you’re thinking about it that way. And I love that you’re you’re reserving the word camp for something very specific. And you’re like, this is not camp. This is just the sort of things we try to provide in camp. Boot camp is the place and the experience.

S2: Camp is the people, camp is the connections. It’s the relationships. It’s.

S7: A thousand little magical moments that you can’t predict there when friendships happen. The camps are just it’s the experiential, immersive experience and you can’t do that. Oversoul.

S1: So if the county said, OK, we’re at Green, you can show up. Would you pack your car up like the next day?

S2: Yes, if we were allowed to show up at camp, I’m gonna be there. I’m going to be there. My staff is gonna be there. If we can’t even have camp, but we can just get there to walk around for an afternoon. We will be there.

S1: What’s the one thing you would want to do up there if I was to be at camp right now?

S2: So we one of the most magical moments of camp have to do with when we gather for Shabbat. So we start Shabbat with lighting candles. And we have a community service in our Ampara theater. And we should say about the Friday night meal Friday, if Shabbat is starts Friday night and goes into Saturday. It’s from a day of rest and it’s very special at camp. And all the kids wear white. And it starts by light. You like Shabbat candles at the beginning and at the end you light what’s called an abdollah candle. So it has its lighting of candles at both ends of this very magical time at camp, a time that involves singing and dancing.

S7: And just community. So I think if I was to go up to camp and there was no camp and it was a sort of walk around having there now not being camp, I would want to light a candle in memory of some of that wasn’t and sort of the the sadness of what we didn’t have. So if I think if I went to camp, that would be the ritual. It would have to involve lighting a candle in the ampitheater of Shabbat under the stars like we do for Abdala or setting it off in the lake like we do at the end of every session.

S8: Lisa Handelman, thank you so much for joining me. Thank you. My pleasure. Lisa Handelman is the camp director of Capital Camps. On Wednesday, Lisa announced capital camps would be canceling camp this summer due to difficulties created by the Corona virus. And that’s the show. What next? Is produced by Daniel Hewitt, Mary Wilson and Jason de Leone. Every everyday we’ve got a little help from Alicia Montgomery and Allison Benedikt. Tomorrow in this feed, you can catch Lizzie O’Leary talking to Kara Swisher. It’s going to be pretty great. Check it out. We’re all taking Memorial Day off. So I will catch you back here on Tuesday.