Phone call after phone call, Cary Hendricks delivered the heartbreaking news: Laity Lodge Family Camp’s summer was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He heard the disappointment in families’ voices. More so though, he heard the graciousness.
“Everyone was sad, but totally respected the decision and said they can’t wait to see us again,” says Hendricks, senior director of LLFC.
As coronavirus cases quickly spread across the U.S., the H. E. Butt Foundation responded by cancelling retreats and postponing activities in March. And then, in April. And then, May. [And June.] The difficult decision to cancel summer programming at all camps became inevitable. The safety of campers, staff, families, and the community came first.
Guests understood. One father called Hendricks to explain how much he appreciated the Foundation’s caution: “I know you feel a lot of pressure to communicate what you guess the plan is,” the father told Hendricks. “We don’t feel that. We don’t have any plans. We just wanted to hear that you care about us, are praying for us, and you miss us.”
The Laity Lodge Youth Camp usually hosts more than 1,500 campers over nine summertime weeks. In the spring, staff hammers out the logistics: ordering food and supplies, writing curriculum, and preparing to train seasonal staff.
“We had every intention in March of beginning camp,” says Chandler Pruitt, senior director of LLYC. “We started meeting every day on Zoom. Four weeks later, things started grinding to a halt. We totally hit pause.”
This year marked the first time youth camp has been completely cancelled. Staff reached out to would-be campers, offering comfort after their summer plans were upended. They replied by sharing funny videos and messages, a dose of levity during sad times. Staff also called to check on seasonal staff—working at camp is what they were looking forward to.
Communication encapsulates camp just as much as swimming in the Frio River, ziplining through the trees or enjoying a late-night dance. Time after time, feedback points to relationships as the most memorable and impactful part of camp.
“Camp is a place [campers] can truly be their true selves,” says Chandler. “We preach a lot about camp being a safe place. We try to design everything we do on individual connections.”
These relationships begin perhaps through sharing a joke or playing a game together and blossom via new experiences or conquering a fear. Anxious about buckling on a harness at the high-ropes course? It’s a lot easier with a new friend cheering you on.
“These are the magic moments we don’t see,” says Alex Bailey, senior director of the Outdoor School. “They are moments you remember the rest of your life.”
“Building meaningful friendships proves vital, especially during a pandemic, not only to help keep up spirits, but to plan for the future,” says Gate Davis, Laity Lodge director of program operations.