Preparing for the 2021 summer season at Fleur de Lis was very complex. Running camp in a pandemic added so many challenges and with each challenge, came decisions. While the obstacles were great, they were surmountable for our 7-week program, but we knew that they were even larger for our Circle program. The hardest decision we made was the one to suspend Circle Week for 2021. We knew that Circle campers needed this invaluable experience of having the fun of camp, the support of caring staff, and that critical piece of being with other campers that had experienced the death of a parent. It was with the heaviest of hearts that we shared the news with Circle campers that Circle Week would not happen in 2021.
However, we also shared an exciting opportunity they could have during the summer. The Fleur de Lis Board of Directors decided to offer a two-week session free of charge for Circle campers. Eleven campers chose to come to our traditional camp program this summer and we are so proud of them for stepping out of their comfort zones and attending the two-week session.We believe that camp can be one of the most important experiences for a child to have and it was never clearer than in these times of loss, uncertainty, sadness, and isolation that all of us have experienced due to Covid. Our Circle campers had the additional challenge of changing their picture of camp. For starters, it was a 14-day session instead of 6 days, so a much longer time away from home. Instead of small intact groups doing activities together, they would choose their activities independently. There would not be grief activities, or the Circle staff trained to support them in their specific challenges. Nor would they be with other campers who had all lost a parent. While these were all important differences, these campers put their faith and trust in us and embraced their new Fleur de Lis experience.
I think of the Circle campers who struggled with homesickness. They used strategies of counting down the days and staying busy. Their perseverance paid off, as they found activities, they loved and great new friends and by the last few days, they were saying, “It can’t be over, there is still so much to do”. The life lesson of doing hard things builds resiliency and confidence that’s invaluable.
Like all our campers, they greatly benefitted from being unplugged and sharing real face time with other people. There is nothing like the conversations that happen while floating in a rowboat with friends. They shared pieces of themselves and their stories of joy and sadness. These campers also got to show their unique skills and personalities. Unlike Circle Week, daily swim lessons are required in the 7-week program, and this was a perfect way for one of the Circle campers who swims competitively to show off their skills and push other campers to excel. Other Circle campers jumped right in and became strong and respected leaders in their Fields.Did our Circle campers adapt to life at camp? Yes! They participated in daily chores, sang new songs, learned the routines, and managed their daily schedules. They loved receiving letters of encouragement and love from Circle volunteers at mail call. They made great friends and experienced that sense of joy and belonging we want for all campers, and they gave the community of campers, staff, and families a deeper understanding of Circle week and its importance.
We are so proud that our board prioritized Circle campers attending the 2-week session without a financial burden on their families. We included Circle campers in the traditional 7-week program by covering the tuition in our operating budget, not through the tuition assistance fund. This was an unexpected but important expense of $41,800 and we hope you will help us to offset this expense. We are planning to offer Circle Week in 2022 because it provides an experience for these campers that is critical to their health, happiness, and growth as strong, resilient people. Providing Circle Week in the future as a free program for campers is only possible through the financial support of our alum, families, and friends of Fleur de Lis. We hope you will join us in supporting our Circle campers by giving generously to this incredibly important program.