We knew camp was going to be different this year. In March 2020, our staff began ramping up for camp at the same time COVID-19 made its way to Florida. It was a big decision whether or not to have camp this year. We decided if we could recruit staff and parents trusted us with their children, we would have summer camp—BUT there would have to be big changes.
Camp population was reduced; the size of individual groups was cut in half to encourage social distancing and limit contact with others as much as possible. Staff wore masks and encouraged their kids to do the same. Canoes and helmets and bows and arrows were wiped down and sprayed with disinfectant between each use. Hand sanitizer was added to program areas next to coolers of water and cans of bug spray. Activity leaders wore masks and gloves to serve the kids at meals rather than family style, careful to remind everyone not to share drinks or utensils. It felt awkward and obvious; wearing a mask in the woods at the height of summer was a constant reminder of how much the world has changed in the last year.
What we didn’t expect out of all this was the campers’ reaction: nothing changed. Mask or no mask, campers still strapped on their safety harnesses and helmets, scaled up a telephone pole, and walked across a cable suspended 25 feet in the air. They waited patiently while the archery instructor doused the bows and arrows in disinfectant spray, hands shooting up when the group leader asked if anyone wanted to do a second round. Kids stood to the side and chattered excitedly about their first time canoeing while the activity leader wiped down the surface of the canoes for the next rotation of campers.
Everywhere you look at camp, relationships are being forged. Campers are reaching out with a sweeping curiosity, waiting for a friend to enter their radar. They ask each other about music, movies, and video games, carefully testing the path for common ground. Staff members hoot and holler through the trees, trading jokes and snatches of conversation in an easy, familiar way that inspires campers to do the same. Camp still feels like home. Masks and hand sanitizer and disinfectant included. For many of the kids who come to camp, home is something they desperately need a taste of. They come from low income families, sometimes with backgrounds of neglect and abuse.
At camp they find unending waves of support from group leaders, deputies, and fellow campers. Law enforcement officers from their communities spend the week connecting with their campers. They laugh at their jokes, help them at the activity stations, and offer guidance when a camper needs it. The Youth Ranches has always been unique in its approach to camp. We’re here to give boys and girls a chance to have an authentic summer camp experience regardless of social status or income. We show them that law enforcement officers are their friends. We teach them how to respect themselves, each other, and the world around them. All of this is possible because of you, our generous donor family.
Thank you for what you do to ensure boys and girls all over the state of Florida have a great summer camp experience and a chance to change their lives for the better.