How do you hold camp during a summer when most activities are canceled?
Camp Millhouse found a way! We chatted with Diana Breden to hear their creative solution to holding camp in the face of a disappointing summer season.
Hi Diana! Tell us a little about Camp Millhouse and your role at camp.
Camp Millhouse is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that started in 1937 as a camp for children with polio. Over the years we have transitioned into what we are today - a camp for children and adults with varying different abilities. We have been located on the southwest side of South Bend since 1940. I have been the Executive Director at camp since January 2014 when our long-time executive director (who was my sister) passed away. However, the camp has been a part of my life since I was very young because both of my sisters worked at Camp Millhouse in the mid and late 1970s.
How did COVID-19 impact the camp and your plans?
By the middle of April, we realized there would be no safe way for us to hold our traditional camp this summer. Our campers were in a high-risk group and we did not want to take any chances of making any camper, staff, or their family members sick. In addition, we use a lot of PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) at camp and there was serious doubt we would be able to get enough PPE, cleaning supplies, and toilet paper to properly run camp. We made the decision to suspend our traditional in-person camp on April 24th.
How did you pivot when you found out you couldn't hold a traditional camp?
We have an amazing Board of Directors who listened to us and made the decision early enough for us to have the time to plan to send camp to our campers this summer. Initially, we called it virtual camp (since they wouldn't be at camp) but we soon realized with all the virtual school going on that the thought of virtual camp did not create happy thoughts. So, we started planning and realized since it wouldn't be virtual in the way that most people thought about virtual, we would call it Camp-in-a-Box. We have really focused on sending our campers all the things they love about camp and we're creating videos showing them how to do the activities so it provides the camp connection with our program staff.
Love the creativity! What has been the response to Camp-In-A-Box?
It has been ah-mazing! We have 95 campers who have signed up to participate. We were covered by our local news stations and have had new people who wanted to participate as well. Our camp community is all a-buzz with anticipation for the camp boxes and video activities.
What meaning does the campfire doodle hold for Camp Millhouse?
Doing campfire every week at camp is one of our campers' favorite activities. Everyone sitting around the big fire, singing their favorite camp songs, dancing with their camp friends is how we usually open our week to welcome everyone "home". The campfire represents the special light inside each one of us that keeps the flame of friendship burning all year long.
Beautifully said. What one piece of advice would you give other camps in these uncertain times?
Don't let the fear of failure keep you from trying something new. It may be the best thing ever to help your camp grow!
What's one thing everyone should know about Camp Millhouse? (a fun fact, way to support you, etc)
There is a "magic" in the air at Camp Millhouse. We have appropriately named it "camp magic". Our employees decide to work with us as a way to make a summer income, make a difference in the life of our campers with disabilities, or to get experience for a college class or major. However, they don't realize that at the end of their (very short) seven-week contract, they will be walking away with life-long friends who are more like family, memories with our special campers that will be with them forever, and love for a place they can always come "home" to.
Thanks for sharing your story with us, Diana! We're blown away by the way you thought outside of the box in order to love on your campers. We hope the campfire doodle is a great reminder of the awesome memories you helped your campers make this summer. Interested in learning more about Camp Millhouse? Check out their website and Facebook!
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