What I Learned From the First Session of YEA Camp We Almost Had to Cancel

By YEA Camp Director Nora Kramer

This is past summer was our 10th year, and our 27th, 28th, and 29th sessions of YEA Camp, and in all that time we’ve never had to cancel a session.

This is something to be proud of when, in our early years, we were unknown and unproven. We had no pictures or videos or testimonials. A few of those first sessions, we had moments when we worried we wouldn’t get enough attendees to be able to hold camp, but we were committed we would never cancel, and here we are, preparing for summer number 11.

This past summer, on a short break in between our Massachusetts and California camps, I started getting emails, texts, and Facebook messages from parents and staff worrying about something they had seen on the news: there was a massive wildfire in the town where our California camp was scheduled to be held, and the town was being evacuated.

This was 10 days before our camp was scheduled to begin, and 6 days before our staff training was scheduled to be held, on-site — in this town that had just been evacuated due to wildfire. I checked every website I could find, and all reported that the fire was 0% contained and growing stronger.

As a context, we normally reserve our venues about 10 months before camp begins. It’s currently October and we’ve locked in our dates and locations already for this coming summer. (We will be opening up registration soon!) This fire broke out 10 days before camp was scheduled to start, and I knew there was a very real likelihood that even if the fire was put out in time, that the roads might not be opened and that the air might not be healthy to breathe within the time we had before the start of camp. How long could we really wait to find out?

Not knowing what to do yet, I posted something on Facebook. It wasn’t exactly a desperate request for help because I really couldn’t think of anything that could be done. Finding a new venue with such short notice would be impossible, I was sure. It was more something I was posting to get emotional support on. I made it a private post, as I didn’t want parents or anyone else to realize that we really didn’t know what we were going to do at that point. We had about 20 people who already had flights lined up to attend camp. I replied to questions from concerned parents by stalling and saying I would be in touch as soon as I had more information.

What happened next blew me away.

More than 30 people responded to my post, and many of them did so not just with encouragement but also with specific location suggestions. I started contacting places they suggested, and literally the first place I contacted was actually available! I was so confused when the man on the phone asked me specific questions about our dates and number of beds needed instead of telling me that of course they were not available!

The catch was it wasn’t so nice, and we would have had to make some major sacrifices to what we are usually accustomed to in a venue.

I knew it could work as a Plan B so as not to cancel, and I couldn’t believe it, though Plan B+ seemed impossible. Could we find a second venue on no notice?

I tried the other venues people had suggested, but none of those were available. Still, I was shocked that we were able to find anything — and that I found it with basically no effort.

That night I got a text from an acquaintance I had met at an American Camp Association conference I spoke at more than a year before. I didn’t even realize she had my number. Seema had seen my post and asked me if I had found a venue. I thanked her for asking and said I had found one not-so-great option but not finalized it, and I asked if she had any other leads. She offered to reach out to venues she had contacts with the next morning — and literally the next morning I got a call from a Girl Scout camp with availability the exact dates we needed, a beautiful venue in a perfect location. They called me!

And that was it! That’s how we found what seemed like it would be impossible to find — a beautiful new venue in a great location in 10 days — and it took me posting on Facebook once and making a few calls to places that our YEA Camp community had crowdsourced.

To add to it, one catch was that we weren’t able to use the venue for the 4 days of our staff training right before camp. I started researching Air BnBs in the area, but those were hard to find at the size we needed and also pricey. This time I texted a friend, Carolyn, who lives near the venue, and told her we’d be holding our camp nearby and asked if she had any ideas for where we could hold our staff training.

She had the same thought I had had: she posted on Facebook — on her page and in several activist groups she’s in. Within an hour, a friend replied and tagged me offering to set up a Skype call right then to see if his house could be a good fit. This amazing human, Dave, was renovating a large home half an hour from the venue. It was unoccupied but with hot water, electricity, and wifi, and he gave me a Skype tour of it right then. It was beautiful and perfect — and he even got it furnished, buying beds, linens, towels, kitchenware(!) in time for our dozen staff members to take over the home for our training before camp.

The camp itself seems like an afterthought in in this context because of the accomplishment of just not having to cancel it in the first place, but the session was as amazing as always, though filled with challenges beyond our control — like:

  • 3 staff members being sick, making multiple trips to urgent care, and taking turns in our isolation area at camp (the person who was the sickest was one of our camp nurses; thankfully we have two!) — and yet we managed it so no campers got sick! — while other staff majorly stepped up as needed throughout the week, with hardly any breaks
  • no dishwasher in the kitchen, meaning staff and campers had to wash 60 people’s worth of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack dishes by hand each day
  • staff member’s car breaking down at our staff training venue and needing to be towed
  • discovering that our beautiful new venue had almost no outdoor lights at night, and needing to install 200 solar-powered lights purchased at the 99 Cents store — oh, so many trips to that store!
  • of course reaching out to redirect all of our camper families, staff, and incredible food donors mailing us their delicious products to ensure that everyone got the new location
  • probably lots more that I’ve suppressed!

But we did it!

This incredible experience is such a testament to the community of YEA Camp, and the community that I personally recognize that I have in my life. That I could so easily post this crisis on Facebook without a thought of possibility, and then have this all unfold so perfectly and easily is something I could only have hoped for all those years ago. And that our staff could step up to handle all of the challenges that came our way — without our campers even knowing what was going on behind the scenes. I am blown away. What a finale to our 10th summer! And now it’s time to start planning to do it all again next year — just hopefully a little easier.

To find out more about YEA Camp, visit YEACamp.org.