The annual fall meeting and educational workshop brought together almost 100 members of Maine Summer Camps, the nonprofit organization supporting youth camps across the state. Hosted by Migis Lodge in Casco on Wednesday, Sept. 18, the group enjoyed a morning of information and conversation, followed by another legendary Migis cookout on the sunny shores of Sebago Lake.
Greeted by incoming Board President Beigette Gill, the group was introduced to six discussion topics by Education Committee Chair Anna Hopkins. The topics were intended to give participants the chance to talk to each other and learn from each other, Anna said. “This is the beginning of conversations, not the end.”
Participants then moved to locations both inside and out to connect and collaborate about topics including immunization and communicable disease matters; staff mental health concerns; crisis management strategies; and challenges – and successes – of the summer.
A sampling of the conversations and information workshop participants shared includes the following.
Immunization and Illness Issues
Laura Blaisdell, MD, MPH is a pediatrician who serves as medical director at Camp Winnebago, alongside her husband, Director and Owner Andy Lilienthal. She joined state field epidemiologist Emer Smith, MPH, to provide wide-ranging instruction and information about immunizations and communicable diseases.
The issue of immunizations – and state law regarding exemptions – is particularly timely. The Maine legislature passed a bill last spring permitting only medical exemptions for certain immunizations required for youngsters to enroll in public or private schools. The law eliminates exemptions based on religious or philosophical objections – a victory for advocates of increasing vaccination rates to the levels statistically shown to best ensure protection of the population at large from certain diseases.
However, petitions bearing approximately 78,000 signatures have requested a vote for the people’s veto of the law and restoring the religious exemption. If the signatures are certified by the Secretary of State, enactment of the law will be suspended until the issue is put to a statewide referendum.
Although camps are not currently bound by the law regarding exemptions, both Laura and Emer urged camps to consider applying the same vaccination policies to their camper and staff population as is required of Maine schools.
Emer also presented parameters of how and when a camp must report outbreaks of illnesses to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Camps can access information regarding such issues on the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention website, https://maine.gov.cdc.
Managing Crises at Camp
Hidden Valley Camp Director Peter Kassen facilitated conversations regarding managing emergency situations at camp. From working with first responders, to communicating with campers and families, to managing media inquiries, participants shared their ideas, policies and expertise.
The first question that must always be addressed, Peter said, is “is everyone safe?” Many other elements are also immediately at play. Crises can have different definitions, for example, including accidents, medical emergencies, and outbreaks of illnesses. Yet there are common actions to take in any emergency: communicating with the camp and parent community in a manner appropriate to the situation; designating a single spokesperson – usually the camp director – to field media inquiries; advising the camp’s legal counsel of the situation; and seeking input from experts such as ACA, New England.
Consistency and transparency in handling crises are key, as is maintaining confidentiality where warranted. In addition, Peter said, the manner of communicating about events can be situational. However, in any emergency, camps should communicate with parents “right away,” he suggested. “Transparency has never not helped us,” he said.
Supporting Staff Mental Health
Catriona Sangster of Camp Wawenock and Kathy Jonas of Camp Walden helped lead a conversation about issues concerning mental health challenges staff members may face. Like many young adults, some camp staff confronting such challenges may receive professional clinical support during the school year. While the camp setting may not traditionally have had clinicians available to help occasional staff members navigate difficulties, directors participating in the MSC discussion said employing or contracting with a mental health care clinician can prove beneficial. Staff members who have the opportunity to “check in” and receive professional support are exercising self-care and are more present and available to the campers they teach and mentor.
Group members agreed that a key element to fostering staff wellness is encouraging and supporting consistent self-care. Additionally, camps can help direct staff in the healthy use of their time. Suggestions included supporting physical activity, providing places for solitude, and encouraging the use of free time away from technology. The group also discussed ways of facilitating staff members’ use of time off, including transportation considerations enabling staff to leave camp on days off.
In addition, the group discussed the importance of respecting the needs of staff members who are introverts, and the value of providing opportunities for recharging.
Other Topics of Discussion
Camp personnel also had the chance to discuss challenges of the summer, as well as hiring issues presented by concerns about applicants’ mental health challenges. And, in a celebration of successes over the summer, Wyonegonic Camp’s Chris Wentworth gathered with a group to discuss “the single best thing you tried at camp this summer.”
A Special Presentation
Elizabeth Snell, of the American Camp Association, New England, joined the gathering to recognize six MSC camps’ participation in a recent Maine camp tour by about 150 ACA camp professionals from the Northeast and Canada. Elizabeth contributed a $500 gift to Camp Sunshine in honor of Fernwood Cove, Camp Micah, Camp Mataponi, Camp Sunshine, Kamp Kohut and Tripp Lake Camp. These camps provided comprehensive and educational tours –and in many cases, delicious meals – to inform and foster connection among the tour guests.
Connecting and Reflecting
“Our fall workshop is such a great time to connect and catch up as we have just finished our seasons and things start to slow down a little,” said Beigette in an email following the event. “The summer is still fresh in our minds and the timing provides us a good opportunity to debrief, share, find new ideas to implement in our planning for next summer.”