I’ll start by jumping right in because I simply have so much to share. This was one of the most difficult, and most fulfilling summers of my career. Coming together again after having spent so much time isolated and alone during lockdowns presented an array of challenges for both campers and staff. So many members of our community arrived at camp with significant mental health challenges. Depression, anxiety, and for some moms, addiction issues that had once been tamed had reared their ugly heads during the deep stress of the pandemic.
People were longing to reconnect with each other, a part of themselves they may have felt was lost, and for the peace that only time in nature can bring. The good news is that at camp, we were able to offer these connections in full force. At the end of each session, campers and staff packed onto the bus feeling fulfilled and renewed, and I simply cannot describe the joy it brings knowing that together, you and I played a huge role in making that happen.
Like many other camps in Ontario, we struggled to build a full staff team that would allow us to open at capacity, and I was eager to ensure that as we rebuilt from the effects of the pandemic, we did so thoughtfully and with a real focus on fostering an equitable and inclusive community. That meant that we started small this year, with just 20 incredible staff (we typically have 35) all of whom had been to camp before, and 4-5 alumni each session. A reduced staff meant that with the exception of our full Leadership Program, we also had a reduced number of campers. Each session, we filled to just 50%, meaning we had between 30-35 campers at Teens and Kids camp, and just 10 moms and their kids at Mothers and Children’s camp. Almost every single mom said that she felt like she had “won the lottery” to be at Scugog for the week.
At Mothers and Children’s camp, we offer evening programming for moms once their kids are asleep, and a favourite tradition is to play bingo where, over the course of the night, every mom wins more than once. Besides the fun of the game, we have an assortment of prizes for campers to choose from, all of which have been donated by individuals and organizations. Two moms’ stories in particular stand out. The first was pleased as punch to have “completed her Christmas shopping” during bingo – taking home an array of toiletries, small toys and mugs for her loved ones. Another mom was brought to tears when she secured four brand new pillows from Sleep Country – one for each member of her family. She explained that at one point, most of them had had pillows, but after a bed bug filled stay in a shelter, they no longer had pillows and simply couldn’t afford new ones. She was especially thrilled to receive one for her four year-old son, who had never had his own before. To her, they were a luxury they simply could not afford.
A highlight of each year for me is hearing the “highs and lows” of our Leadership Group’s trip to Algonquin Park. We gather when they return to debrief, and in all of my years at camp, never have I heard so many teenagers share that their high was the natural beauty of Algonquin, and the quiet moments they spent together enjoying it. I have so many memories of this summer that fit into this theme – campers filling their cups by taking in nature’s bounty, and the quiet moments of connection found in community.
A new and exciting challenge this summer was operating both our overnight summer camp, and our newly formed Nature School day camp. I loved to see the moments where both groups were interacting and learning from each other. Our Nature School Instructors see and use the 300 acre site in totally different ways, pausing to notice, marvel in, and learn from nature at essentially every turn. This has been a program that has grown over the past year, and I’m thrilled to say has entered its second year this fall. If you’d like to learn more about our Nature School, please feel free to reach out to me or visit our website. The program was designed in large part to generate revenue to support our summer camp mission, and I’m thrilled to say we’ve partnered with Canadian Tire’s Jumpstart to offer subsidized spaces for children from the BIPOC community. It’s a remarkable program that I’m really proud of.
Our Nature School operates year-round meaning our site is now open 12 months of the year. That, in combination with all of the incredible upgrades we’ve given our facilities over the past two years – a renovated boathouse, a newly landscaped waterfront, a basketball court and now a four season dining hall with geothermal heating and cooling, is allowing us to offer additional revenue generating streams including rentals. I’m delighted to say this fall, we have three rentals (which is three more than we’ve had any other year)!
Ultimately, this summer was an absolute pleasure. It was a joy to spend time together, to play, to eat and sing. We worked really, really, hard to bring an incredible experience to everyone who came through our gates. It was an intense, challenging and joyful summer that I’m so grateful to have been a part of. Despite the summer just having ended, I’m already thinking ahead to 2023. One of the biggest changes we’ll face is the absence of our long time Assistant Director, and one of my dearest friends, Carol Rhynas. She’s officially retiring, and summer 2022 was her last full summer at Scugog. She’ll be back to visit of course, and a piece of her heart will always be with us, but I won’t wake up each morning to see her bright smile and enthusiastic “good morning” before she heads down to the waterfront. As my daughter pointed out, there is a well worn path in the grass between Carol’s cabin and mine. I’m sure there will be many times next summer where without realizing it, I’ll walk that path, looking for my friend and confidante, only to be reminded that she’s off to new great adventures. We’re having a party to celebrate Carol and her remarkable 43 years at Camp Scugog on October 1 from 2:00-5:00pm. Everyone is welcome, please see below for details.
We have a campfire every evening before bed at Scugog, and this summer, one of our staff, Carlos, added a beautiful, steady and consistent beat to all of the guitar songs with his djembe drumming. I like to think of Scugog like that – adding depth, consistency and a little something special to the lives of all of our campers and staff. You and I both know this already, but it’s nice to be reminded: Camp Scugog is truly a remarkable place. Thank you for being a part of it.