When the pandemic began, I was one of the people who thought that this would all blow over in a month or two. As things began to unravel, and it looked more and more like we were going to have to cancel our first camp, then the next, and the next, I became more and more sad and upset.
We stayed in our houses and we waited for the powers that be to make some decisions about gatherings and numbers of people allowed and how to keep everyone safe. As the days ticked on, we were all being told to physically stay apart but we were being connected by old and new apps that could let us still see each other and play games with each other. We still remain in our pj’s and on our couches, but apps like Zoom, Skype, Houseparty, and FaceTime were what kept us connected to each other, and kept us somewhat sane. That’s when the lightning struck and our team was inspired to start a crazy journey. We were going to have a Virtual Co-op Camp!
It was a fantastic idea! Keep the connections that you create in-person at camp, but do it through an online social platform. We had to find camp curriculum tasks that would translate to one person activities, (which, when you run a co-operative camp, and the majority of your activities are leadership development and co-operative games…..not an easy task!). We set up an 18-day schedule, and decided what items the participants would need to use during the sessions. We created a kit that was mailed to each participant. These kits consisted of 18 separate envelopes, sealed with the materials they would need, plus a list of things that they had already at home, like pens, scissors, and, for my favourite day of camp, cooking supplies to recreate a famous Co-op Camp food! The postage on these kits was indeed the most costly of all of our expenses this summer, but honestly, the most worth it! I mean, who DOESN’T love getting a package in the mail, PLUS, it was full of mystery, since they were labeled “DO NOT OPEN UNTIL DAY OF CAMP”
We began this adventure on July 6th. The participants logged into Zoom with a passcode that we provided in their kit and they were delighted to be witness to the first ever Warm Fuzzy Story in a virtual setting. The beloved character of “Yodon’t”, (as in yo, don’t spread cold pricklies!), was given a hearty round of applause when it was all over. We were happy to declare day one of Virtual Camp a success!
We have had a few more adventures as this summer has progressed. We took the participants on virtual tours of a housing co-operative, a worker and community service co-operative and will be touring a telecommunications co-operative in a few days. We have learned about money management, done crafts together, learned about ourselves and ways to improve our mental wellness, learned about building consensus, last but not least, we learned about the development of co-operatives and credit unions and the 7 Principles that guide us all to make our co-ops function at their best. There are still a number of sessions to come. We have some secrets and surprises up our sleeves. Knowing these participants, there is still a lot of fun to be had as we continue the adventure until the middle of August.
So far, our summer experiment has gone extremely well. The participants are as engaged as they can be for teenagers staring at a computer screen and they have all been participating in the activities. Sure, there aren’t any friendly hugs being shared, or high fives to signify a great job done in a task, but there have been plenty of laughs, some stories shared, and loads of pop ins from parents, siblings, cousins and pets. In fact, there is usually a pet parade at least once a week. We have built our program to include time for sharing and visiting between participants and the presenters, that is more than just questions about the content of our lesson plans. It’s a meaningful visit between a group of friends. We could tell that the youth involved have been starved for connection. This pandemic had taken friends apart. It had taken their schools away. It had made their spring a real downer. Seeing their friends from camp last summer was an opportunity for those inside jokes and memories to be shared once again.
Our theme that we chose for the 2020 Co-op Camp season was “Make Meaningful Memories”. Covid-19 has made 2020 memorable, for sure, but I would like to think that Virtual Co-op Camp gave Covid a run for its money. We made sure that these amazing kids got to still have a place where they could be themselves for a few hours a week, and not worry that someone was going to mock them, or bully them, where they could relax and have fun among friends.
I am still looking forward to next summer where I can dip my toes into the lake, and have a real campfire with friends at Co-op Camp, but until then, I am just as happy logging into Zoom, and seeing a virtual room full of happy faces and people who are there to sing the banana song with me 😊
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