As we close off the summer, we wanted to thank you for your faith in us throughout the last 18 months. Many of the thoughts articulated below were passed on to our staff at the final banquet and we felt it would be nice for you to read them. We want you to understand how much we appreciate your support, and the staff’s support, this summer. It’s a bit of a lengthy speech but we hope it gives you a sense of our pride for our staff team.
Read on to hear our thoughts and just know that it is you that has allowed us to make our dreams come true.
Speech to staff:
“To say it was the best summer ever almost sounds trite after all we have been through this year. It was the best summer ever, of course, but it was so much deeper than that. The layers of challenges and emotions and corresponding rewards from this summer are just so intricate, so significant, and almost too emotional to even talk about.
You see, we as Directors came into camp like you did; fresh from experiencing 16 months of hell. Well hell, for some may be far too strong a word, but it was a year of reckoning, of hardship and of lost opportunity for many.
March 18, 2020: we thought this Covid thing would pass in a few months, but we were so stressed figuring out if camp would open or not. We spent endless hours in April and May, confused as we absorbed conflicting and new information every day. Like all of us, we were scared but optimistic for the summer and then as things got worse, we decided to do the last thing we had ever originally contemplated; we closed camp before the government decided to because we felt that we just didn’t have the knowledge, the PPE, or the testing equipment to ensure that we could, in good conscience, operate safely.
Knowing that we would not operate was scary for us from many perspectives. Emotionally, the setback for the kids, financially and so on – but we closed last summer on the automatic assumption camp would be running in 2021. As hard as it was, we knew that of course camp would run like any other ordinary summer next year. I mean, how could it even be a question of having camp closed a second summer?
Boy, were we wrong.
Well, then the second and third waves came and the entire director team, like all of you, had to revert to an isolated life of Zoom communication. Little did we know how much we were all falling mentally this year. Not only dealing with the lack of socialization and stress but also with the fact that the government was now saying that camp may not happen or that it would happen with such severe constraints it would not be camp. How could this even be? We gave up a summer so we could safely open the summer after and now we were being told that may not be possible. So once again we had to prepare as if we were open and take a huge gamble once again. It was April, we had to have our staff in place, our kitchen staff, order our supplies, pay for our tents, find our additional nursing staff. What if we did all of this and camp didn’t open? We were upset, depressed and anxious. But all of you were in the same boat–and you, the staff, and our camper families supported us at every turn and gave us words of encouragement and that just made it so much easier for us to say “we got this.” While some staff dropped off, you stuck with us and believed in us and believed in our Manitou community. Ultimately, by having faith in us and in each other, we changed lives and gave every camper and staff a summer they not only deserved, but that they literally needed. It was no longer a privilege, but an actual necessity for these kids.
Working on the logistics of every aspect of camp and the protocols that would work in practice was literally insane. We spent thousands of hours with American camps and with our competitors, working together to figure it all out.
At the same time, we had to think about scenarios like: what if we ran camp and covid hit us here? How would we deal with having to send people home and how would our camp work in terms of creating isolation cabins? The permutations and combinations of so many scenarios for the summer were mind boggling.
To the entire director team, if only every staff and parent could understand the hours you put in, the dedication and commitment to get us here – I don’t know in any other business or any team that would work harder or care so much. But that’s why camp is not like any other business- it’s a way of life.
To the entire team – unit heads, activity heads and other head staff- you showed a maturity, a patience, and a great attitude always and we thank you for trusting us even when it was a bit crazy here at the start of the summer to get things right.
To all the counsellors in the trenches–seeing you with your kids, hugging them, loving them, dancing with them, cheering with them, caring for them, talking to then, listening to them – you did it! It was not just the best summer ever- it was the most important summer ever in their lives.
We could talk for hours how much planning went into this summer, from getting our own testing machines from Chicago, to getting salvia testing or creating the oasis, creating isolation cabins, outdoor dining, etc. But there was just one thing our planning could not have prepared us for and that is underestimating the negative affect of the covid lockdowns on all of you, all of us, and on the older campers.
Of course, we had sessions from social workers in pre-camp and we thought we were prepared, but to be honest the impacts of the Covid lockdowns had on our campers and staff was far more extensive than anybody knew or understood.
Asking you to come here after being locked up with lack of regular routines, commitments, and social supports for 16 months, and then re-join our Manitou community where socialization would be the essence of the camp experience, with routines, schedules, and policies, and without technology was a far bigger ask than we realized.
We started off the summer saying, “you are the heroes” and every one of you here has done something that no one in your generation will hopefully ever have to go through again, to re-engage your brains to live life to the fullest for both others and for yourself. You had all lost so much of your life this past year and then suddenly you were asked to be selfless and just think of others for two months and be normal again. Camp became a crash course on reminding us of what life is truly about.
As we said in our blog – we all came to our little piece of heaven, but heaven can be a strange place when you have just been through hell.
Those first ten days of camp were so hard– we all expected camp to make up for our 16 months of hardship, we put so much pressure on ourselves that camp had to be perfect. But camp is never perfect. Camp is like life- it’s a seven-week journey – with ups and downs, with growth, with wonderful memories and new friendships and thanks to all of you, eventually camp actually felt normal again. It was a process – a journey that had us all end up together in this very special place.
Many of us had to deal with mental illness challenges as a result of covid and after two or three weeks of camp we all adjusted together – we healed together – and the key word in this is “together.”
We slowly expanded cohorts and by the end of the summer we were all in the dining hall as one group again – how we quickly forgot all about running up and down steps to get food. How we longed for a music lunch with all of us in one place – the simple pleasures of life, and in the end with a little bit of luck nobody was happier when as DJ Marky, I got those tunes going for all of us in the dining hall last week.
We saw Freshkids with more homesickness in week one than ever, yet at the end of the summer we had five times the number of Freshkids stay all summer long. Does that not say it all?
We were able to work within a new construct, making it easy for kids who needed therapy to get help online at camp, while still immersing themselves in the camp experience.
And we saw the frustration of this year – the resentment that we had – that negativity, turn into spirit, into sportsmanship, into giving back and into making kids feel loved, fulfilled and supported for simply being themselves. We saw one of the most spirited and staff supported world games of all time!
So, as you light your candle this year (candles are handed out to all staff with lights off), light it for everyone around you who had the courage to come to camp in the first place and risk the unknown. If you had not signed your contract taking that risk, we honestly would not have made this happen. Many camps did not have as many staff willing to return as we did, as they did not know what type of summer it would be for them. They could not trust the community that nurtured them. But you are the heroes of our summer because you did.
As you light that candle remember, how you feel now- you did it! Watching you these last few weeks we know you had a blast this summer- and you likely learned more about yourself this summer than any summer before you.
As you light the candle think about the fact you beat the odds, you took the gamble – and it paid off.
Together we learned this summer that we could literally change hundreds of children’s lives for the better and have a bigger impact on them than likely ever before in their lifetime. Think about that and then congratulate yourself. You learned to give of yourself and reaped the reward.
Think about that–your gift from Manitou that you so deserve for your incredible effort, loyalty and passion is that you will always remember that you made a decision in the winter months, to take a chance, to enter the unknown, and you did it because you trusted the community either because of your past summers here or because of your gut of what you Manitou stood for.
May you continue to confront life’s challenges with people you care for and trust- within positive cultures that bring the best out of you and may you continue to take risks to enrich your life.
I can tell you I have never been more exhausted in my life- but I have never been prouder, more fulfilled and, as a result, happier as I stand here today.
We were hoping to unveil an incredibly beautiful plaque today that we have had professionally made – that will honour all your contributions to manitou this summer – something that campers and staff can look to for years and decade ahead- to say thank you to our heroes of this summer. It is still being worked on and will be ready in six weeks.
This plaque will be at Fireside and list every staff who made summer 2021 so special. It will read as follows:
‘Our heroes don’t wear capes; they wear masks and live in cabins for eight weeks. Our heroes don’t fight villains, they fight for campers to live their best life at camp. Thank you to our staff- the heroes of Manitou 2021.'”