Spring is in full swing and so is camp planning! Sherwood Forest is excited to welcome back campers this summer and recover some of what was lost last year. The opportunity to return to camp, reconnect with friends and staff, and simply have fun in nature is a much needed and desperately missed experience for many. This time around, the process around preparing for camp reopening looks a lot different and various aspects of programming have been modified. Nevertheless, Sherwood Forest staff are committed to making this summer the truly healing and rejuvenating experience the kids we serve need. We talked to Camp Director, Rachel Tutwiler, about how the planning process has been going, what changes have had to be made in light of the pandemic, and why finding a way to safely host camp this year was vital to everyone.

Why is it important to get back to camp this year?

Our campers (and our staff) have spent the last year in a state of unknown and uncertainty. For many of us, we’ve had an added layer of fear and anxiety about the health and safety of ourselves and our loved ones. Our campers NEED CAMP. It’s important for them to get out of their homes and away from their screens. We have all spent an unprecedented amount of time sitting behind screens and interacting with each other through a camera. While this new dive into the digital world has opened up many possibilities for our programs and increased accessibility for our campers, at the core of our mission is connection with and through the outdoors. Now that we have learned to live safely within a pandemic, I believe that it is imperative that we help our campers re-center themselves and reconnect with their peers.

What have you heard from Sherwood Forest families about going back to camp?

Families cannot wait to be back camp. Many families that we’ve talked to have shared stories of longing from their campers. We have also heard stories who are really struggling without the face-to-face human connection and for those campers, getting back to camp is a critical step in improving their overall mental health. We have also heard from some families that they are not ready to return to in-person programs. We recognize that there is some added risk in attending camp this summer, and while we are following all best practices for mitigating those risks, families may still not be comfortable taking them. What’s important is that we are providing an option. For those who are ready and excited, we are going to provide a safe and fun summer. For those who are not quite ready, we are looking forward to seeing them in future summers.

What about camp will be different than in years past?

For campers, the biggest change will be spending much more time only with their cabin groups. We will be using the “Pod Method” to monitor and limit interactions across camp. This means that instead of campers attending activities with kiddos from different cabins and villages, campers will be doing most of their activities with their own cabin groups. Another big change for this summer is that we will be running one co-ed session instead of separate boys and girls sessions. Running one session will allow us to easily establish and maintain a camp bubble, ensuring an extra layer of safety for our campers and staff.

 What has the planning process for reopening been like? What have been the most challenging aspects and most surprising?

In planning for this summer, we have had to rethink every aspect of camp life and ask ourselves, “How does this need to look different -because of COVID-19?” For example, using the pod method means that all of our staff need to be cross-trained in multiple activity areas instead of having specialized skills, so that they have the knowledge and training to lead a wide variety of activities for their campers. We’ve also had to create new procedures and policies to help ensure that camp continues to be a safe environment with the added risk of COVID-19. From camper registration to kitchen procedures to staff roles and responsibilities, every aspect of the planning process has been affected. The most challenging part of all the updates is the ever-changing nature of public health guidelines. It’s a continuous process of revising so that when campers arrive on Day 1 all of our procedures, policies, and paperwork are in-line with CDC and public health recommendation.

What resources have influenced the way you and your colleagues have approached a return to camp?

We are relying heavily on our broader camp community to make decisions and recommendations about best practices. Many camps chose to run in 2020 and did so successfully. We have spent time discussing with  our fellow camp professionals ideas and suggestions on making camp safe, but still essentially camp.

 How do you foresee the pandemic affecting the way camp operates in the future?

Lots of folks have asked if the switch to virtual programming will continue in the years to come. To that I would say, not likely. Going virtual was a great option for continuing to reach campers when we are unable to be together physically. However, it is not the ideal structure for our organization. We have long recognized that traveling to a specific location for meetings or camper orientation is a challenge, whether due to work schedules, lack of transportation, or lack of childcare (to name a few). Hosting virtual pre-camp meetings and check-ins for families does allow flexibility for families who might otherwise have barriers in getting to our office. Though the virtual world has opened possibilities to creating more opportunities for accessing families, we would always prefer to have face to face conversations and connections with families.

As far as in-person camp goes, we are approaching this summer with open-mindedness and curiosity. We recognize that change is good and while many of the changes we are making this summer have been forced upon us, that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth continuing post-pandemic. We want our community to know that the way things have been doesn’t have to be the way we go back to. Rather, we are looking at this summer as an opportunity to better understand how to meet the needs of our campers, which is, of course, our ultimate goal.

At this time, Sherwood Forest would like to announce that Rachel Tutwiler will be leaving her position as Camp Director at the conclusion of summer 2021 and returning her home state of North Carolina. While she will be sorely missed, we are so thankful for her leadership and commitment to the mission of Sherwood Forest these last few years. Rachel’s deep understanding of our camper’s needs, her dedication to their well-being, and her ability to design and lead a program that has touched the lives of so many children has made her an asset to our organization. She also has been a joy to work with for all of us at Sherwood Forest. Incredibly down-to-earth, always willing to help wherever possible, and someone we have loved sharing stories and laughs with – Rachel has become a friend to us all. As we prepare for this transition, we will utilize Rachel’s expertise in selecting her successor and welcome another fantastic camp director into the SFC family. Please join us in wishing Rachel another successful summer at camp and the best of luck on the next leg of her journey!