Reflections on the Summer of 2021

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Luminaries light the path for closing rituals of Girls Camp at Mishawaka

Luminaries glowed on either side of me as I walked the path to the lake one last time. Behind me our youngest campers whispered excitedly, unable to recognize the familiar path bathed in warm, flickering light. We had made it to summer’s end, awash in relief and gratitude.

So many people have asked me how camp went this summer. I often get that question, but this year it was a little more tentative, a little more expectant. This summer might have had bigger expectations, and greater reasons for being tentative. It wasn’t an easy summer for sure, but the answer that bubbles up now is telling. Memory is funny that way. Forgotten are the challenging days of establishing protocols, supporting anxious campers away from home after so much time in quarantine or limited normalcy. Vague are the staff meetings, the nervousness of new counselors, the fingers crossed to avoid Covid exposure. Now I think it was a wonderful summer.

We were so happy to have kids at camp, to offer this time away to restore, and by the end of the summer, the cohesion was palpable. The air around our final campfire oozed with love (and of course, a few tears). The connections were deep and expansive. I believe we all breathed with relief.

This sense of connection and relief followed really challenging beginnings. Who really knows the best way to run a summer camp in a global pandemic? We had spent over a year planning, reading, listening, and discussing. We had the best possible local consultant available with Julie Purdum working in Itasca County Public Health. As a teacher, I had begun reading about anxieties resulting for girls (and boys) during quarantine. We experienced these anxieties and their manifestations. But over time, doing what we always do, playing, laughing, challenging ourselves in activities, listening, girls supporting girls (boys supporting boys)…, life settled in. It seems like such a small thing, but now back at school, wearing masks and hearing about the Delta variant, the fact that for two months this summer we could do what we’ve always done, and feel something close to normal, is remarkable and worth celebrating.

I believe it will take more than a summer to make life normal again, and we’ve already seen the return to strife and challenge in schools across the country. I attempted to retire from my teaching job but have instead returned in a different position. I’m eager again to support my colleagues and the students under my care. I know we will all face challenges, but I am grateful to be able to return to Mishawaka in the summer, to breath deeply, to be in a place of support, to listen to the loons on the lake and be soothed by the sun on my shoulders, the sparkling water lapping against the shore. I’m excited by the enthusiastic first days of enrollment and hearing parents talk about how excited their kids are to return to camp.

I know that going to camp isn’t the only thing kids need after the struggles we’ve all faced, but it’s a big help. Please know that we are committed to offering the same joy in activities, support in connections, and a quiet sense of normal.

-Mary Jane

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