It has been an extraordinary six months for us all. Throughout the history of American camp experiences, our field has weathered many epidemics and pandemics — including Influenza, Polio, Spanish Flu, Smallpox, Asian Flu, Mumps, H1N1 Swine Flu, and Measles — but COVID-19 has certainly had a catastrophic financial impact on camps. Preliminary estimates are that day and overnight camps lost a combined $16 billion this summer, with 19.5 million youth missing out on camp experiences they would have otherwise enjoyed. This translates to an estimated 900,000 jobs lost and $4.4 billion in lost wages, as well as a $21 billion hit to the downstream, indirect economic contribution that normally would have benefited our economy through spending, tourism, related employment, taxes, etc.

For most of us, life today feels more unpredictable than ever — uncomfortably so. There have always been disruptions in our lives, but today those events may feel more normative: life cycle events, career change, illness or injury, financial loss, and more. COVID-19 is testing us in new ways. We are living in isolation and seeing drastic changes to our daily lives, financial hardship, social and emotional distancing from our friends and neighbors, and many of us are grieving over the deaths of loved ones. It is overwhelming, anxiety-inducing, and depressing.

I recently read Bruce Feiler’s new book, Life Is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age (2020) and heartily recommend it to you. A few years ago, Feiler narrowly escaped death from a terminal diagnosis. That crisis propelled him to spend recent years gathering hundreds of stories about major life changes from people in all 50 states. His goal was to look for patterns and learning that might help everyone survive better in rocky times. In this wonderful book, Feiler helps reframe nonlinear “lifequakes” and explains how each one typically leads to a life transition that lasts five years on average. He illustrates how we spend a huge amount of our lives in these transitions and offers effective tools to reshape our lives and help make the transitions easier to navigate. This paragraph doesn’t do the book justice, but I hope you’ll find it a helpful in your journey to find new ways to adapt and thrive.

From their earliest camp experiences as young children, each summer at camp teaches campers and staff new levels of adaptability. For those lucky young people who were able to attend day or overnight camp this summer, they learned to adapt to layers of critical non-pharmaceutical interventions (small group cohorting, physical distancing, use of personal protective equipment, and careful handwashing, for example). They gained a keen sense of personal responsibility for the wellness of the entire camp community through their compliance with these important protocols. Now back in their homes, these campers and staff are helping their friends adapt to life with these same protocols.

To help us all transition and look ahead to summer 2021, ACA has convened several studies from 2020 that will help us organize and widely share the learning from this past summer. These studies will examine the impact of COVID-19 on camp operations, financial impacts, staffing, program quality, and outcomes, as well as seek to understand family perspectives on camp during the pandemic and the impacts of the virus on family summer planning. They will also capture the public health data and insights around the COVID-19 mitigation recommendations and non-pharmaceutical interventions in the Field Guide for Camps to inform best practices for summer 2021. At ACA, we are working hard to help everyone adapt and move forward together through this pandemic and beyond.


"Life is in the transitions as  much as in the  terms connected."
— William James

Feiler, B. (2020). Life is in the transitions: Mastering change at any age. New York, NY: Penguin Press.

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