For seven years, Wisconsin Youth Company day camp has been my highlight for the few warm months we get each summer. When I think of camp, I picture going down the waterslides at Dolphin’s Cove, campers walking on stilts for the first time, biking to Babcock Dairy Hall with Middle School U students, and hearing about the incredible outdoor adventures of Wander Wisconsin. I eagerly await the day in August when it all comes to a bittersweet end as 250 campers gather in bright colored t-shirts and dance the afternoon away at the All Camp Extravaganza at Elver Park. None of these things happened in Summer 2020.
As we started to alter plans for summer, my first emotion was sadness. I was sad for the campers that had been waiting to reach the age to transition to new programs like Wander Wisconsin or Middle School U. I was sad for the staff that knew this would be their final summer at Wisconsin Youth Company. I was sad for the campers that missed out on their last year in Theater or Circus Immersion Camps.
It didn’t take long for the sadness to be replaced with hope. As news circulated that multiple other camps and youth organizations were unable to function this summer, I remained incredibly hopeful at the possibility of Wisconsin Youth Company operating safe, smaller programs. I knew we would gather the resources we needed to figure out how to make it work for our families.
Our team got to work brainstorming ways to reimagine the magic of camp. Waterparks were replaced with water balloons. Weekly festivals were moved outdoors and allowed for distance between pods. Field trips were replaced with thoughtfully planned interactive projects with fun themes. The success of camp this summer is owed greatly to the staff. A seasoned staff team with years of experience, a passion for youth programming, and the desire to create fun camp environments all provided for the best possible summer we could have.
During the past few years as summer program director, it was not uncommon for me to visit every camp, every week of summer. I know many campers by name and have watched many campers transition and grow through our programs. I can count the number of visits I made to camp this summer on one hand. Even if the visits were few and far between, the brief moments I was able to spend at camp helped solidify that we made the right decision this summer. Campers were happy. Staff felt fulfilled. Parents were beyond grateful. Considering the circumstances, we could not have asked for a better summer.