Sustaining A Summer Camp During A Pandemic
A Q&A with Camp Tanako Executive Director Kayla Hardage on the struggles and successes of camping ministries in 2021
Camp Tanako. Photo by Casey Crocker.
Camp Tanako Executive Director Kayla Hardage had to battle a global pandemic once again this year in order to make a safe and fun environment for campers to enjoy the beautiful, serene setting at camp Tanako. She shares with us some struggles (but mostly successes!) that she experienced during the 2021 summer camping season.
This summer’s camps were obviously quite different than in years past due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. How did Camp Tanako adapt to the challenges of having camp this year?
Having made the decision to cancel camp in 2020, we did not want to cancel two summers in a row. The international camping and retreat community was a wonderful resource of ideas and best practices to adapt camp with pandemic precautions. The safety of our campers, their families, and our staff was always a priority. We relied on CDC recommendations for general space. The CDC also released camp-specific recommendations that were very helpful. We adjusted how we scheduled activities and meals and we changed how we ran small and large groups to create pods of campers and staff. By engaging in the CDC recommendations, we were able to contain COVID-19 when we had a positive case during our last week of camp.
What are some new things you tried out this year that you haven’t attempted in the past?
Keeping social distancing in mind, we moved more activities outside. A favorite was the Kona snow cone truck every Wednesday for canteen time. Thanks to a couple of donations, we were able to sustain the weekly visit. We look forward to setting this up for next summer. We also had some old picnic tables that we tie-dyed and used to make an outdoor classroom. This was a huge hit, and we plan to make a couple more areas. One of the things that is great about outdoor classrooms is that we can use them all year!
Share with us some successes from this year. What are some blessings that you experienced at Camp Tanako?
We hosted 10 weeks of camp! We had over 1,500 campers in Day Camp, Overnight Camp, Time Out for Tanako, and guest groups. I made the comment several times this summer that hearing children laughing and silly camp songs were good for my soul! The little moments you spend with a camper while they tell you a story, or hand you a friendship bracelet that they made for you, help to realign the good in this world. My favorite part of the day is evening worship, and it is always amazing to see the campers grow within the week. The last night of singing “Sanctuary” re-energizes the staff, as we remember why we do what we do!
What was the most challenging part of having camp this summer?
We had a few! As we all see today, there are mixed feelings on precautions, and asking some parents and campers to wear a mask was harder on the staff than we anticipated. Another challenge was the litter created on the grounds by disposable masks. Every day we had the fear of shutting down camp because of either an outbreak or rising COVID-19 cases in the state. On top of a pandemic, this was the first summer with campers for both me as Director and Matthew Gwinner, our new Program Director. Getting to personally know our staff, campers, and their families as the summer went on was great for our leadership. We learned a lot this summer, and are excited as we now plan next summer.
How did campers respond to camp this summer? Can you share any joyful moments with us?
These campers were ready to play outside and see their old friends and meet new ones. They were just as excited as my return staff to be here and see each other. We did notice that the stamina of staff and campers was not as it was in previous years. We expected a little of this and adapted as needed. After our first week of camp, we had a parent tell us that when they got home, their camper was playing like a kid again! As the summer went on, we all regained our sense of childlike joy in our day.
What’s the biggest lesson you learned from this summer’s camps?
People need people…the human connection is a beautiful thing to witness. No matter the relationship at camp, from parents picking up their camper to greeting the food delivery guy once a week, this place brings all the good feelings of joy, peace, grace, and love! It is our responsibility to be an open, safe place for all to come and be present with themselves and each other. One thing I say a lot when giving a tour or talking about Tanako is that if we just get people here, the outdoor chapel or a night at the fire pit on the lake will work their magic. Christ is present in this place! The testimonies of the campers through the generations give us the encouragement to keep going when things like a two-year-long pandemic seem to jeopardize our future.
What do Camp Tanako’s plans for the rest of 2021 look like?
We had several large groups cancel due to rising COVID-19 cases. We have adjusted our marketing to invite individual families or small groups to stay with us, as we did last year. Tanako is a great place to stay for a little R&R! We have RV sites, several options for cabins, and plenty to do outside. Being located 10 minutes from downtown Hot Springs makes us a great, safe place to stay while taking in the local attractions and parks. Registration for Summer 2022 camps will open October 1. (They make great Christmas presents for the children in your life!). We are hosting an Alumni Reunion weekend November 18-20, with the hopes of bringing old and new friends back to camp. Following our social media is the best way to stay up to date with us. Due to our large groups not coming, we are working on a couple of fundraisers that should be announced soon. Please consider Tanako in your charitable giving this year.