A Video Message from Jason to our Campers
Jason’s Letter to Our Camp Community – May 28, 2020:
Camp Menominee Family,
We will not be having camp this summer.
I said that out loud for the first time just yesterday. I never thought I would speak those words. I couldn’t imagine a scenario where I would have to. Menominee is my life, the boys are my children for the summer, and I would walk through fire for our boys, our staff and this camp.
I have been through every stage of Menominee life, and am trying to put myself in everyone’s shoes. The first-year camper who was so excited to prove he could do well away from home, or follow in his dad’s footsteps at camp. The boy returning for year 2 or 3 hoping to accomplish those goals he came so close to achieving last year. The 4-year camper who spent all year thinking about who would present his five year jacket. The Senior Cabin member itching to lead his Twilight League team or get selected as a Green & White captain. The CIT approaching his last year with his age group after spending all those years together. The returning staff member who was pining to impart the wisdom to his campers that he learned from his role models at camp as a boy. The veteran counselor on the precipice of entering the “real world”, but pushed their full-time job start date because one more summer at camp was worth it. The CM alum following our every move eager to hear the results of our competition. Everyone in the Menominee Family hoping to reconnect with their best friends.
I am so sorry that I can’t provide this for you all this summer.
This email could go on for days. I could share all the things that have and have not changed since I wrote my last email on Saturday. I could dive deep into the minutiae, the science and break down our encyclopedia of an operational manual but at the end of the day none of that matters, because we end up with the same painful reality of too many unknowns, and too many ways it could go wrong.
I do want to share, however, what has been important to me throughout this process. It was important to me to involve our parents and seek out your feedback before making a decision. It was important to me to listen to professional guidance, weigh expert opinions, collaborate with my peers in the industry and develop a full plan of action to the best of our ability. It was important to me to put everything I had for the last few months into this and fight for this camp, so I can look you all in the eye and truly say that I tried desperately to make this work.
It has almost become a cliche in camping to say, “let’s give our campers the summer they so desperately need”, but it is the truth – our boys needed camp this summer. This is what drove me to explore every angle and try to clear every hurdle, and it’s hard for Jeff and me to shake the feeling that we let our boys down. I envy some of the amazing camp directors out there who are in a position to make this work, and have excellent plans to do so. I have constantly stressed that, despite our collaboration, every camp is different which allows every camp to operate on their own timeline with their own plan. For Menominee, however, we are at the end of the road.
My heart breaks for our boys and our staff today but let me be clear about one thing: Menominee is not going anywhere. Every ounce of energy and effort that we put into trying to make this summer a reality will be directed to keeping camp operating and thriving. We will come back stronger in 2021.
I know there are many of you who have financial and logistical questions. I ask that you extend me a couple more days of patience before emailing about refunds, then we will present you with all of your options (including for your clothing orders).
Attached you will find a couple additional messages to share. The first is a video message to your son. Everyone grieves in their own way, so please share it with him when you feel it is appropriate. The second is a note to our CITs and the third is a note to our staff. Jeff and I will be here for all of our boys and staff whenever they need us this summer and beyond. In the coming days and weeks we will set up Zoom calls with all of these groups to answer any and all questions.
During our annual Alumni weekend before my first summer as the owner of Menominee, our camp veterans gave me a little bound green notebook, with our “sailboat” logo imprinted in black on the cover. Inside there are pages and pages of thoughts and ideas about what the Menominee Way means. Every so often I refer back to it for guidance or wisdom, but it has been a while since I read through it. After struggling so much to find the right words for this email, I turned back to the book for inspiration. The first page reads, “We do not simply inherit camp from those who have gone before us. Rather, we are nurturing it and preserving it for the many thousands who will follow in our footsteps.”
We love you all and are here for you anytime you need us.
For the Love of Camp – Jason
Update May 23, 2020
We are in uncharted territory.
Never have we seen a situation with so many unanswered questions, so little data, very conflicting guidance, inconsistent recommendations and such rapidly changing circumstances.
The unknown can be terrifying, and the closure of many camps in the area and around the country only highlights the lack of consensus on how to proceed. However, as we have said time and time again, that is the beauty of our industry. Every camp is different in their own glorious and unique way, and no decisions that camps make can be appropriately judged against the others, because every nuance of a camp operation has to be taken into account. There is no right or wrong.
But you didn’t choose any of the other camps, you chose Menominee, and you chose me. You have trusted me to care for your sons and I strive to do so every single day of camp as if they were my own children. You have trusted me to hire the right staff and train them so camp can be a true extension of your parenting and your values. You believe in the Menominee Way and trust that we will teach our boys the right lessons in success and in failure.
That trust is something that I am thankful for every day and hold near and dear to my heart. I would never do anything intentional to breach the bond we have built over the years. I owe it to you and to your boys to move mountains to put ourselves in a position to open camp this summer. We will not have all the answers, but we will have a plan.
Over the next few days, we will provide you with our plan and methodology for camp this summer. We will make ourselves available for questions via phone calls, zoom calls and webinars and will happily spend as much time necessary clarifying any aspect of our program for you. We will not be selling you on our plan, only informing you of our procedures and best practices.
This plan, however, is not complete and comes with many hurdles to clear before we can welcome our boys through our gates. Today the board of health confirmed they will approve our license to operate this summer. So we have gotten past hurdle number one, but there are a lot more ahead.
We are still in the process of finalizing our full operational guide. This will be based on and guided by the ACA Field Guide published this week, guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the CDC, the state of Wisconsin, our local health department, and our own independent experts.
Throughout this process, we have asked for your patience as we reviewed guidelines, consulted with experts and tried to get a handle on what it will take to operate a safe camp this summer. So now we will give you our patience and we will not ask for a decision on camp until you are fully informed.
The rest of this email will lay out the birds eye view and basics of our operational plan for the summer. Subsequent emails will unpack the details, logistics and expectations. Make no mistake, we are in this together and we will ask a lot of you. This will not work without the complete buy in from our parents and campers, but anything we ask of you, we will be requiring tenfold of ourselves and our staff who are charged with your son’s care.
We also recognize we exist in this ever changing landscape, and things could be so different a day or two from now, but we wanted to communicate what we know right now, and what we don’t.
To sum up: this is not a cancellation email. We are committing to press on and do everything we need to do to give us a realistic chance for camp to run this summer, if you are in it with us.
The Plan: 6-week Super Camp July 6-August 13 (with a 4-week option ending Aug 1)
We will offer 6- and 4-week session options that both start on July 6th. We feel like this gives us the best opportunity to have the most campers at camp for the longest period of time, while also limiting travel in and out of camp. Creating our own camp bubble is a crucial component of a successful summer. As such we will not be allowing anyone to arrive at camp after the July 6th start date. We also feel like this will give us a realistic chance to secure our full complement of eager and well-rested staff with the broadest skill sets to work with your boys this summer.
Parents, we need to make the following VERY clear: our plan has been designed as if we will have COVID-19 in camp this summer. We are taking every step and precaution to mitigate our initial exposure, including a rigid testing, quarantine, screening and social distancing protocols, and even though probability is in our favor, it is impossible to ensure that it will not enter camp. Our detailed protocols that you’ll read over the next few days will outline how we will care for campers and staff that have the virus, and your options in the event that your son tests positive.
Here are a just a few practices we will be implementing in order to mitigate risk and provide the best experience possible:
- We will be bringing the staff in at least 14 days prior to your son’s arrival to allow for appropriate health monitoring during that quarantine period.
- We will ask you to quarantine your camper for 14 days leading up to camp as well as screen for COVID-19 symptoms.
- During the first 2-weeks of our actual camp session, we will operate in a “pod” or “family unit” based model. Each pod will function as their own “family unit” with as little interaction with the others as possible. This will help limit the spread of the virus if it does come into camp, aid in our contact tracing process and give us confidence that we can operate as a full camp later on in the summer if we are symptom and virus free. These pods will be based on cabins and age groups and will vary depending on our camp numbers. It is our ultimate goal to use a phased approach with our pods that culminates in the entire camp operating as one family unit after two weeks.
- We will be operating in-camp programming only this year, which means socials, intercamp competitions and other trips will not take place.
- We will not permit anyone to visit camp during the session. As such, There will be no visiting weekend this summer. We will run a 6-week continuous session.
- We will practice elevated hygiene practices this summer including the installation of more handwashing stations, hand sanitizer stations, increased sanitizing of cabin and common areas, sanitizing and disinfecting of equipment after each use and much more that will be shared with you in the coming days.
- Testing will play a crucial role in our operations this summer. We are exploring more readily available testing options and putting a plan into place as to the timing and frequency of the tests. Information and data on testing is changing rapidly so we will monitor this constantly and ensure we have the appropriate approach by the time camp starts. When we have the information we need, we’ll share with you how this will be incorporated into our screening and camper care procedures during the summer.
We understand that the above will have an effect on our regular programming this year. However, we have a staff of creative and motivated individuals who bleed green through and through, and they have been working nonstop to put together a comprehensive and action packed in-camp program this summer. We are also going to take this as an opportunity to challenge ourselves to be experimental and push ourselves to new levels of imagination and innovation. Maybe we won’t be able to hug or high five, but I know our community will figure out the best way to show affection, love and support under these new circumstances.
We also know that as circumstances change, we will update our protocols and procedures for evolving data that comes in.
What might cause us to cancel camp at this point?
As we sit here today, we would like to open July 6th for our 93rd Summer. However, there are circumstances under which we will not operate this year:
- Circumstances and data are changing rapidly with respect to the virus. If at any point between now and camp we do not feel like we are in the best position to care for the health and safety of our community in a responsible manner for any reason, we will not open.
- There is always a chance that Northern Wisconsin sees their condition worsen over the next few weeks and the state or county does not feel comfortable with the influx of people to the state. If there is a surge in cases in the Northwoods or laws like the stay at home order are once again enacted, we will most likely not be comfortable opening.
- We are also monitoring the data and cases of pediatric inflammatory disease. We do not see it as a risk to our population right now, but if we feel there is a risk to our camp community we will make a decision to close for the summer.
- We feel like adequate testing is crucial to our operational plan this summer. We are working on finding the most reliable, least invasive and most cost effective tests we can. Our ability to secure testing will play a large role in our ability to run.
- The pod/family unit model is a means to an end for us. We do not want to or plan on operating as a 6-week alternative to home isolation. Our ultimate goal is to have the camp operating as one large family unit in as “normal” a way as possible after two weeks at camp. The board of health indicated that, assuming we are virus and symptom free, they will work with us to help that happen. If that changes we do not feel that operating a pod model the entire summer is anything near the true camp experience we are comfortable offering.
- At the end of the day, we need a camp community in order to operate camp. This includes complete buy in from our campers, staff and our local community. After we have presented all of you with our full operational protocol, you may decide that camp is still not the best decision for you or your family. If we do not achieve appropriate camp numbers or find ALL of the right people to carry out our protocols, we will not be running this summer.
Where do we go from here?
Here is how the next few days will go:
- In the coming days we will finish as much of our operational protocols as we can, outside of a few key items we are waiting to discuss with health officials, physicians and experts. We will also get aggressive in our push to hire the most qualified and well-equipped staff out there to fit our needs.
- After the plan is complete (or close to it), we will share our plan with you all and provide you with an opportunity to read it and get your questions answered and cover topics like:
- Medical Protocols including screening, quarantine and isolation
- How we will respond to COVID-19 symptoms and positive cases when they arise
- Telemedicine at camp this summer
- Testing protocols
- Pre-camp screening requirements
- How we will create our “pods” or “family units” at camp during the first 2-weeks
- Food service and meals
- Cleaning and sanitation
- And much, much more.
- We will then send out information on the new camp session including:
- Financials and Refunds
- Any other information needed.
- After you have been fully informed, we will ask for your commitment to this summer.
We are now reaping the benefits of our patience and diligence. We have been able to read, study, consult and verify our protocols and are still in a position to react and adapt to relevant information and data. So, while many things still remain outstanding, we are in a great position to press on. We have worked so hard to get to where we are today, and we truly want to give your boys the summer they so desperately need right now. We will continue to fight for this as long as we can, and as long as you stick with us. The next email you receive will have a lot more detail regarding our policies and procedures this summer. I hope to send that email soon.
For the Love of Camp – Jason
May 6, 2020
Hi Everyone – I want to take some time today to talk about this summer and try to address some of the questions we are all asking. While we still don’t have all the answers, I am going to do my best to give you the details I have, walk you through how I hope the next few weeks will unfold and address how the decisions to close other camps around the country affect Menominee.
First of all, I want to thank those of you that have checked in to see how I’m doing. It’s unnecessary but appreciated none the less. My stress comes most often from things I can control. Unfortunately, there is so much about the state of our country and this virus right now that we cannot control. So I’m trying to take the information as it comes, and educate myself as much as possible leading into the summer.
The feeling of unease and the unknown can be very intolerable, but if I’ve learned anything at camp during my 18 years it’s how to get comfortable being uncomfortable, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of your campers right now are showing a unique amount of maturity during this uncertain time, because they have learned the same lessons at camp as I have.
I do want to tell you all that I am still optimistic and hopeful about camp happening this summer. That statement will naturally beg the question: “Why?” Especially with some camps around the country and more specifically in the midwest deciding to close their doors. Why hasn’t Menominee made a decision yet?
To me this highlights the beauty of camp. There are thousands of camps out there of different sizes, structures, goals, missions and unique identities. Every camp has to make choices relative to their organization and communities they serve. The decision making process for a camp that serves 1000 campers and hundreds of staff going in and out of camp the whole summer looks a lot different than a small camp of 175 campers and 70 staff in a contained environment.
We are lucky to be in a position where we can be patient and wait for all of the relevant information we need to make an informed decision.
But what exactly are we waiting for?
By the end of this week, we hope to receive a full Camp Operations guide from American Camp Association. They have partnered with the YMCA’s of the United States and engaged Environmental Health & Engineering, Inc.(EH&E), a Boston-based consulting firm specializing in environmental health, in an effort to put together a comprehensive guide for camps this summer. Their guidance will be based on information gathered from specialists in pediatric medicine, camp medicine and nursing, epidemiology, infectious disease management, biological safety, industrial hygiene, organizational design, and other technical specialties.
Once we receive this guidance we will study it and analyze it quickly. Then we will present it to the state and local public health decision makers, who we expect to give us a go-ahead to operate this summer.
ONLY then will we be fully informed and prepared to decide on the appropriate course of action.
So right now, we have plans A through Z covering a wide range of options for this summer, but we need to consider the guidance from experts and public health officials before moving forward.
Will camp be different this summer as a result of this guidance and best practices? Sure. We might see changes in group sizes, meals, activities, health screenings, travel and much more, but we promise you, it will still be camp.
Given all of that, the bottom line for us is that we will run camp this summer if we feel we are in the best position to care for the health and safety of our community, and if we can still provide the the true MENOMINEE experience.
CM Family, we are doing everything we can to fight for camp this summer. So far you have been by our side in that fight and we ask that you stick with us for a couple more weeks. You can help by checking your emails and texts (and reading them), because when we have all the information we need, the next step will be to rely on your feedback, cooperation and action to help make it work.
Thank you for your trust and your patience and we will continue to update you as we know more and make our final decision. You are all amazing.
For the Love of Camp – Jason