I have been so deeply inspired by the way many summer camps across America came together virtually as a community online to sing, play, and connect during the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis. It was as if the summer of 2020 began in March this year. These virtual camp programs rekindled the spirit of connection and belonging for thousands of children, teens, and adults who were confined to their homes and, like many of us, filled with anxiety and fear. With everyone emotionally starving for human connection, these programs were tremendously therapeutic and restorative. They also illuminated a path forward toward greater community and humanity in the summer to come.

People are hardwired for connection. From the moment we are born, we spend our lives seeking loving, secure relationships with our family and friends. In times of crisis, the need for connection is perhaps greatest. The act of being together inspires us to reach out, share generously, and celebrate common values and kindred spirit. Perhaps one the greatest lessons of COVID-19 was not to take in-person, human community and connection for granted. It reminded us to cherish the people, experiences, and connections we have at camp and find ways to extend that community and those values to the rest of our lives at home, school, and work.

With this issue of Camping Magazine being devoted to staff training and development, I have been reflecting on how our recent COVID-19 experiences might inspire everyone on camp staff this summer to lift up the power and impact of community in daily life at camp. Each camper comes to camp with their own emerging life story, unique perspectives, and experiences. Your camp community supports and guides them as they use their past experiences as a catalyst to positively impact the future communities they will go on to serve. The lasting impacts of camp experiences are powerful.

One of the greatest ways to engage your campers to deepen their connection to the camp community is to get them to share stories about themselves and causes they are passionate about. Get-to-know-you games and opportunities for creative expression through art and writing are great ways for them to share. Make a point of celebrating diverse ideas and critical thinking in these programs. Make sure the group is inclusive, emotionally safe, and accessible.

It is inspiring to watch thriving camper cultures develop over time into communities of action at camp and beyond. As a young boy, I learned about cultural differences, repairing the world, social justice, and servant leadership with my friends at camp — formative lessons I will always treasure. Writer and organizational expert Meg Wheatley is often quoted as saying “There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.”

How will you facilitate inspiring discussions with your campers about what is important to them this summer at camp? How will you work to help them become a community of leaders inspired to action? Few experiences in their young lives will immerse them in a human-focused, tech-free, near-peer-led adventure where they are encouraged to try new things, take positive risks, make mistakes, and be change-makers. Thank you for inspiring them to make the most of camp’s deep connections and community and to dream of the possibilities that lie ahead in their lives.

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