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Virtual Camp Susquehanna 2020 Success Story – Episode 1

Posted on Aug 31, 2020 in General

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Covid Creates Opportunities for Connection

Anyone who has experienced Camp Susquehanna knows what a special place it is for those who attend. Young burn survivors come from far and wide to spend time with other kids who have had similar experiences, sometimes meeting other burn survivors for the first time. They make friends, learn coping skills, leave with higher self-esteem than when they arrived…all while having fun. Campers and volunteers look forward to camp all year, and as a 6th-year camp volunteer, I can attest that the volunteers absolutely gain as much from camp as the campers do!

When the Covid pandemic hit, and we realized that we would not be able to hold an in-person camp this year, the realization was devastating. We knew we had to do something…..but what? The term “Virtual Camp” was being thrown around, but what did that look like? How on earth could we create an experience for our campers that would even come close to the magic that happens when we are able to have camp in person?

We didn’t know the answers…..but we knew we had to try, and we got to work. As they always do, our volunteers stepped up immediately, spending their weekends on Zoom brainstorming calls and committing to help in any way we needed.

Coming up with a structure of what we thought could potentially work we started to plug in the amazing folks who volunteered to run sessions. We split the camp into two age groups instead of the four that we usually do at camp. Each of the two age groups would have 1.5 hour-long sessions every day for three weeks and every Friday night of camp would have a bonus camp-wide connection time.

Once the format was established, that led to another round of questions. How will we get and keep the campers engaged? How can we be sure they will have all of the items needed to participate? How can we keep some of our camp traditions intact in this new model? How can we properly support our campers’ emotional needs through Zoom? That’s when we came up with “Camp In A Box.” Each camper would be given a box with all the supplies needed for each session of camp programming, plus s’ mores snacks, glow sticks, “porch gifts,” and more! If you want to hear more about what was in those incredible boxes, look for our next blog which will detail their contents and the production of “Camp in a Box” boxes.

All boxes were hand-delivered, and with programs planned, our first session was scheduled for July 13th with 46 campers and as many volunteers scheduled to attend. We nervously logged on with no idea what to expect. Would it work? Would the campers show up? Would it create the connection we were hoping for?

The answer…was YES! Campers and Volunteers showed up, with smiles on their faces and eager to participate. Everyone was SO excited to see one another! There were, as expected, a few technical glitches, but they were resolved quickly. Every day, the campers and volunteers showed up, laughed, had fun, and then looked forward to logging on again, always leaving the session by blowing kisses, waving, throwing “air hugs” and saying “see you tomorrow”. And we did just that, for three weeks!

Of course, the Camp Susquehanna and Burn Prevention Network teams were nervous about what the end result would be, but it provided us with an amazingly successful three-week virtual camp experience, and it has created new opportunities for us all to stay connected moving forward.

The Burn Prevention Network Camp Susquehanna team is already planning for year-long virtual opportunities for gatherings, activities, etc., which we announced to everyone at our closing ceremony to happy faces and cheers. Stay tuned for more information on that!

Be on the lookout for our blog series which will include:
• Evolution of Camp-In-A-Box
• In-Patient Campers at St Chris
• Meet our volunteers
• My Experience
• Thank You

Jessica Banks
Camp Liaison to Burn Prevention Network