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.'”
Well, after two full weeks of camp we are delighted, even ecstatic, to officially declare that Summer 2021 feels like a normal summer again! It wasn’t easy getting there, and for some kids it will still be a process to get to where they were two summers ago, but it’s now clear that the positivity of the staff and campers has propelled us towards our regular BEST SUMMER EVER! As they say, it takes a village and our little village is back to being as strong as ever.
The Freshkids, who usually require 1-3 days to adapt, took twice as long to feel comfortable but when they did they absolutely soared beyond what we could have imagined. In a year when we expected our unit of 115 Freshkids to decrease to 40 kids after the two week mark, we were shocked to find out that 81 out of 115 freshkids chose to stay for a month! For some of these kids, Covid has been 10% of their lifetime experience, yet it just took them just about 12 days to embrace outdoor play, healthy socialization, new relationships, and an appreciation for nature away from technology. For those Freshkids that have returned home, we will be curious to know if your child seems a little different, maybe a bit rewired back to where they were 16 months ago?
For the rest of the camp, it is clear our staff have truly stepped up and worked with the kids who were having challenges and that their work is paying off. Today we checked in on a boy who had been homesick all summer and a girl who had been feeling really sad for a while, both Juniors, and both reported feeling truly happy to be at camp and excited for the upcoming weeks for the first time. In fact, one of them forgot they had even been unhappy despite crying for days just last week! When we say “give it time” this is what we mean. The two week mark is really a turnaround point for so many kids.
It also helps that we’re moving back to a self-selected schedule. Manitou has a very unique approach to scheduling and many of the kids that were struggling do better with individual choice for activities. Cabin programming was fine for a week to be exposed to activities they may not have ever considered doing, but at this point we they feel a need to get back to the type of daily schedule that they look forward to here at Manitou, one that provides freedom, variety, and boosts their independence and self-esteem. Of course, we continue to encourage all the campers to challenge themselves and try new things even when they begin to pick their own activities. In fact, some Senior girls came to us last week saying they loved the first week of cabin activities because they never knew they would like “yoga, music and hockey” and now they are picking those activities this week!
Communities take on personalities and influence their members. If a cabin has two homesick campers then the other eight kids have a far better chance of being homesick. Now that the kids that were struggling are starting to turn it around and the kids that were doing well are now begging to stay all summer, that positivity spreads and that negative funk, anxiety and worry gets translated into deeper friendship, new experiences, and positive relationships with staff.
The weather: lets not discount that in the first 12 days of camp it poured rain for four entire days, all day!! It also rained for another three days as well. Having more sun in recent days allows us to do more activities and since most activities are outside this year the rain does affect us more than ever. Although when it does rain, mud sliding is on ☺ !
The covid protocols: We are now into a camp wide bubble and we as of today are allowed to function in wider cohorts and even as one camp! We can now be outside with no masks and inside with masks (if close to another cabin group ). Theatre plays can now be performed inside with masks (this was just declared today by public health). The play last night made everyone feel like we were back in our special home and even the seniors cheered on the Freshkids as they performed brilliantly in Willy Wonka.
Finally, to be honest, the Director Team has much more time to address any typical issues around camp. Now that camp is finally moving along as normal, the Unit Heads, Directors and other leaders have the ability to work with those campers that need and deserve that extra attention.
Don’t get us wrong, we are not naïve and know that this summer will be one of continual challenges for all of us, but they will continue to become less common as the weeks progress. We are ready and willing to work as hard every day for your children. At our staff meeting last night the energy was the best we have seen in years. Everyone is just so happy to be here and that in and of itself is one type of infection that will spread to your kids all summer along. With everyone finally settling in, many staff and campers alike have come to us to say, more or less, that they did not realize that the light at the end of the tunnel would actually shine so quickly or be so bright.
After 16 months of our children being locked up, they are finally in their little piece of heaven.
But heaven can be a strange place when you have just been through hell.
Recent data now shows that 50-70% of children have anxiety disorders as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. These numbers are, quite frankly, horrifying and reaffirm to us how important it was for us to be able to give these kids a summer of relative normalcy.
But just because we’ve opened our gates and welcomed the campers, doesn’t mean that the past year-and-a-half is gone and forgotten. For the kids that usually adjust to being at camp in a day, it may take three or four. For the kids that take three or four days to get into the groove, it may take a week or even ten days. This means that your child may be having a great time but may also be homesick the entire time they are here. They’ve been by your side 24 hours a day and it takes time to adjust. These kids need camp more than ever but sometimes even the things we need the most can be a bit challenging. What we are saying is please don’t be surprised if the summer they have looked forward to for so long is not 100% perfect. Perfect is never attainable. Making things better is always the goal and you know as well as we do that anything is better than what these kids have had to endure this past year.
A common question that we’ve been getting is, “Why isn’t my child over-the-moon happy to be at camp? Why are we getting sad letters when they’ve been so excited for the chance to be at camp?” There are many reasons why a child could feel this way. Firstly, this is their first entry back into real life and their brains are re-adjusting to living with constant social interaction. They are learning how to relate to many types of people and personalities rather than just those of their family or household. Perhaps most importantly, they are re-learning how to deal with conflict. You can avoid dealing with conflict if you don’t have any new relationships or growth which is what has occurred this past year, but that does not lead to happiness.
All of this is simply exhausting for anyone, let alone a child. However, the same reason that they may have a tough hour or day at camp is also why they are also laughing, playing and having so much fun for the first time in a long time; because they are engaging with real life peers while learning skills and gaining self-confidence with spontaneity, creativity, and the freedom to be outdoors.
Secondly, your children that have been here before may forget that camp was never perfect. They needed to look forward to camp to get them through the year and now they are faced with the reality of what their camp experience always was. Of course we all remember the amazing moments (of which there are still plenty) but we tend to let ourselves forget the times we may have struggled a bit or the times when things weren’t as flawless. They have put so much pressure on themselves for this summer to be nothing but perfect and have made themselves believe that it has to be fantastic on day one because they need it to be that way so badly. And of course, they are naturally more anxious than ever without their parent(s) by their side. It’s a real process for all of us to deal with these healthy challenges and it’s our job at camp to nurture that growth at every stage of their experience. Group living brings out the best in us; it develops the deepest friendships possible and gives us the skills so that the rest of our lives can be fulfilling, but it is also a huge change for these kids right now.
So, we ask you to please be patient and allow your children to adjust or re-adjust to their happy place. For the majority of the campers that are right back to where they were two summers ago, it’s as though no time has passed. For some that are taking a bit longer to get there, as long as they are moving in a positive direction, we all have to remember that, ironically, they are the campers that need the summer camp experience most right now. Nothing else will bring them closer to where they were 16 months ago than facing challenges, gaining independence, playing freely, and interacting face-to-face with others.
Finally, please understand that we have twice as many first-time campers as ever as a whole year of kids missed a summer so we are busier than ever providing them with the support that they deserve. We also have first year staff that missed their CIT training, and we have second year staff that have not been first year staff as well. We are so proud of our staff and told them the other night at our staff meeting that they are the heroes of the summer, but we still know how important it is that we give them our time and support so that they can be the absolute best they can be. We can’t believe how hard they are working and how quickly they are learning on the job. Our Unit Head and Activity Head teams have never been better and our ten-person director team, along with our emotional support health care staff, have been a huge support to all of us.
So, feel free to tell us if you get a lousy letter in case we don’t know; but remember, having some challenges along the way does not mean that the camp experience is not a positive one; in fact, those challenges may be just what your child needs to get them back to a life of fun, friends and fulfillment.
The reason we have time to write this blog is that it’s clear to us that things are starting to look more like how we remember a Manitou summer looking, and we’re back to having a great vibe and lots of energy! Everyone is finally in full swing and we can tell the hard work of all 220 staff is truly making a positive difference in your children’s lives.
Last night we had our first Friday Night Fireside. Yes, we know it was Saturday but going with the theme of “pivoting” this summer we had to be a bit flexible with the dates. And besides, a Saturday night Friday Night Fireside is way better than no Fireside at all!
While we were not able to gather around the fire in our normal location due to Covid safety procedures, we were able to hold fireside on main field and keep most of the traditions alive—just in a new location. We’re hoping to be able to get back to our usual location in the coming weeks.
Despite the changes, we still had a beautiful and meaningful time at Fireside together as a camp. The evening began with an incredible and interactive land acknowledgement delivered by our canoe specialist, Zoe, who really got the kids thinking about the land we live on and what it means to pay respect to those who were here before us. We then proceeded to introduce to the camp this year’s summer theme; “Together We Can Go Far.”
Throughout the summer we will be focusing on the positive changes we can make in the world when we work together, support each other, and come together as a group. We talked about how difficult it has been for us all to go through this pandemic isolated and alone for the most part, and how lucky and privileged we are to be back together again in a safe and supportive environment. We will be encouraging all campers and staff to think about our theme and figure out how it applies to their own life and experiences. We can’t wait to see what they come up with!
Next, we invited up a few campers to make speeches about what camp means to them, with some amazing results!
Here are some excerpts from some of the speeches:
Jonah: “After the crazy year and a half of this Covid pandemic, we are all so lucky to be here together, and there is no better place for us to spend this summer than Camp Manitou!”
Jonathan: “When you are at camp, your cabin will be your home. The kids in your cabin will be your brothers and sisters, the counsellors will be your parents, and mark and jeff will be your grandparents who are there to watch out for you and listen when you need to talk.”
Romy: “If this is your first time at camp, no matter how old you are, you may be feeling a little bit homesick just like I did two years ago and that is totally OK. But, while you are here, your counsellors, your friends, Mark and Jeff, will be your family away from family, and Manitou will be your home away from home.”
Ezra: “I know it can be scary to try new things. My last summer here I wanted to try waterskiing, but I was afraid that I would get water up my nose and my bathing suit would fall down. However, I was encouraged to try it and I went for it. Now waterskiing is one of my favourite activities.”
Olivia: “Manitou has always been a home away from home and going a year without it was really hard. A year without Music Lunches, Firesides, and Mark’s DJ’ing was tough. That’s why this summer is going to be that much more special.”
Max: Two summers ago was my first summer at Camp Manitou. Within the first couple of days, I already felt at home! The Manitou community is so welcoming along with the fun activities and great counsellors, I have found myself waiting and hoping to come back to camp.”
It was so nice to have the Manitou family together again, singing the camp song with their arms around their cabinmates. It just felt right. We’re so happy to be back and to get to have many more amazing Friday Night Firesides this summer.
Dear Manitou Parents of 2019:
When we read about kids and teens today, common themes emerge everywhere we turn: anxiety, mental health, lack of resilience, overprotective parenting, helicopter parenting, snowplow parenting, perfectionism, lack of exposure to nature … the list goes on and it can feel overwhelming.
Despite this sobering reflection of today’s youth, there is a comforting aspect. By being mindful of a few simple ideas, it’s easier than you think to create a sense of balance with your children so they grow into confident and well-adjusted young people.
HAPPY: The Magic Word!
Who doesn’t want to have happy kids? The problem lies in thinking our kids have to be happy all the time. But is that real life? As adults, we understand that there are good times and there are challenging times; it’s important that we trust our kids to understand that too. They have to endure failure to learn success. They have to feel uncomfortable and push themselves beyond their limits to become healthy adults. Kids stand a much better chance of achieving true happiness once they experience the flip side and make it through.
Perhaps an analogy is easier to understand. Let’s take the frustration of learning to ride a bike: you struggle to find balance, falling off time after time, getting scraped up. It feels like you’ll never get it. Yet once you do, you can feel how pushing yourself through hardship has resulted in deeper relationships as you bike with friends, take on new independence and seek out new adventures.
Similarly, going to camp might, at least for the first little while, bring occasional unhappy times. Being homesick, figuring out how to get along with others, gaining skills of resilience, team building, cooperation, and proper communication are just some examples that push kids out of their comfort zones. But we all know camp changes lives in the long term. Even those kids who found it especially challenging at times look back and say camp allowed them to learn the skills to be happy, resulting in the deep, long-lasting friendships and life skills that made all the difference.
Another dilemma we all face as caring parents is that we want to make sure that our children have the best, are exposed to the best and have every advantage. Often, we don’t understand how disabling that can be. “The point is to prepare the kid for the road, instead of preparing the road for the kid” as the saying goes.
It’s undeniable that we live in very complex times. We don’t envy parents today a bit! Here’s the good news, though: if we turn down the dial on everything even a quarter turn, our kids will end up happier and more well-adjusted as they mature.
THE TECH WORLD
Let’s start with cell phones and social media. It’s clear that kids rely on their devices and social media platforms to the point of addiction; this lack of personal interaction and constant posting contributes to heightened levels of anxiety and depression. We need to explain to our children that social media posts are online fantasies and that real friendships still happen with direct face-to-face communication. Perhaps it’s a good idea to have some off-limit areas for cellphones at home: bedrooms and the dinner table might be good places to start.
Don’t feel compelled to give so much opportunity to your child, as crazy as that sounds. “I have to give my child every possible competitive edge,” we often hear parents say. By doing so, you are limiting their creativity, putting unnecessary pressure on them, and defining their happiness by only one aspect of what makes people truly happy.
Let children fail and take healthy risks. Young people are drowning in a rising tide of perfectionism and this in turn creates anxiety. Controlling parents, in a study of over 25,000 participants, was one of the key causes of mental health disorders, including depression, eating disorders and suicide. There is no such thing as perfection, of course, and as soon as our children know we love them for their imperfections, the better off they will be. Teaching children to learn from their mistakes, while emphasizing hard work and discipline, is far more effective than preventing children from making those mistakes.
Give your kids the coping skills they need to become resilient, strong young people. Don’t snow plow the obstacles out of the way; challenges are a part of life and must be approached with the confidence to meet them head on. Reassure your kids that it’s okay to feel uncomfortable sometimes; adaptive anxiety is healthy and necessary.
Finally, when was the last time your kids played hockey on the street, went for a hike or played in a mud puddle? A recent study of one million people from Denmark proved that walking outside, hearing the rustle of the trees, and feeling the wind in our face or the rain on our backs increases happiness. Simply spending time in nature positively affects children’s mental health outcomes.
It’s hard not to compare ourselves to our peers, friends and fellow parents, and so of course we feel the need to give our child what someone else’s child may receive. But maybe, just maybe, the key to parenting is not working so hard to give all those opportunities, and instead give the time to our kids to just smell the roses.
We so look forward to welcoming your children to Manitou 2019, we are ready for one more ‘Best Summer Ever’!
Mark and Jeff