Serving youth is at very heart of our ministry at Highland Retreat, so for the 15 months when we were not able to host youth groups or hold summer camps due to COVID-related concerns and regulations, we definitely felt the loss. Finally, this past May we were able to welcome our first overnight youth retreat since February of 2020! It was so good to see young people coming together to play, worship, and reconnect. That joy was swiftly followed by the delight of being able to hold Highland Summer Camps in June and July!
Though we were thrilled to be able to operate summer camps again, the challenges were many, and began well before the summer season was upon us. Our year-round staff spent a significant part of the winter and spring researching COVID policies and best practices – both those required in Virginia and those recommended by organizations such as the American Camping Association – and then adapting our own systems to be in line with these policies. Recruiting and rebuilding a summer staff team after a year of closure and little in-person connection was also a formidable and time-consuming challenge.
Yet the joy of being able to serve youth and children again was a powerful motivator; we were so grateful to be back to doing what we love! And from what we’ve heard from campers and parents, the children were also glad for the chance to be back at camp again. One camper parent shared her gratitude “for the people, the activities, the place Highland was for [her son]. [He] talked nonstop all the way home from camp and has continued to overflow with stories about his time and the friendships that he created. [. . .] You truly have made an impact on lives this summer.”
In all, we served 272 campers this year. Each of our eight camp sessions – one less than usual – approached or actually hit full capacity, but that capacity (the number of campers we could accept given the number of staff available to serve as counselors) was generally lower than usual. Thus, while 96% of this year’s available spaces were filled, our total was only about 60% of a “normal” summer. We certainly would’ve loved to have a few more counselors on staff!
Though few in number, the wonderful young people who were our summer staff had a great spirit of willingness to be creative and flexible to make summer camp work well. Our LITs (Leaders in Training) agreed to serve more fully in cabins; support staff, such as lifeguards, were willing to provide extra assistance to counselors while still serving in their assigned roles; and one of our leadership staff continued to work a full-time job during the day, returning to camp to serve in the evenings and overnight. Their amazing servant hearts were truly a blessing.