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We are opening our summer camp

Every morning, as I begin my day, I scan my phone for the list. I’m not looking at my shopping list or my to-do list. I’m checking the updated list of summer camps that have decided to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not me. I’m the director of Oregon NCSY. And as of this writing, we’re planning to stay open.

The decision is not entirely up to camps. The process in each state is different, since government officials are entitled to make their own decisions about whether or not they will allow camps to operate. They haven’t even all announced those guidelines; some states have already put out their recommendations for summer 2020, while others are still just asking questions.

Unable to wait until the very last moment or to take incredible financial and health risks, many camps have chosen to close their doors this summer.

I don’t blame them. It’s nerve-racking to wait until the end to make decisions and the state guidelines can be almost impossible to follow. Any camp that opens will have to have limited bunk sizes, no (contact) sports, and no trips. All activities will involve frequent hand washing, social distancing and continuous cleaning of supplies; the list of possible restrictions are endless. Why take risks only to make a camp that will turn out sub-par at best?

There was a time in my life when I, too, would not have taken that risk, when I would have conceded to the difficulties and lost my drive to fight. But time has told my story and a defining moment changed my outlook. But recently I’ve been trying to view challenges as opportunities for creativity. That’s how I’m approaching camp during a pandemic.

In Oregon where my camp is, one suggested guideline is limiting the bunk size to no more than 10 campers. For many camps, this obviously presents a challenge; using only half of the beds in a bunkhouse will leave half of the campers without places to sleep. For most directors, the thought of figuring out new housing for 50% of their campers seems daunting, and in fact, in most cases it is.

But what if we thought of this instead as an opportunity for creativity? What if we imagined a camp without adequate sleeping space, and then asked what is the benefit of not having enough beds for campers?

Maybe this situation is an opportunity to introduce a new outdoor wilderness program that the camp has always wanted to launch. Maybe the camp will cut its camper size in half and reinvent itself as a specialty camp. Maybe campers can sleep on the couches in the rec room, or on the beds of the old infirmary.

Maybe the camp can purchase luxury air mattresses and tents and open up a glamping track. And maybe it can charge more money for this track?

By asking a few simple questions and seeing a challenge as an opportunity, one can go from shutting down in the face of adversity to facing it head-on.

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Instead of seeing challenges as roadblocks, I try to look at them as opportunities. Creative solutions are always in front of our eyes; we just need to know how to find them.

I guarantee camp won’t look the same as it did in 2019, but who’s to say it won’t be better? My team and I will have to work harder. We will need to create more moments and spend more time finding innovative solutions.

And worst case scenario, if I decide to close camp because our state guidelines are too tough to work with, at least I will know that we asked the right questions.

Meira Spivak is the director of Oregon NCSY, where over the past 14 years she has been developing Jewish educational programming for teens and parents. Additionally, she serves as the director of Camp Kesher, a growing summer camp in the Pacific Northwest.

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