Camp Chestermere staffers and Director, Shannon Dean have been working throughout 2020 to ensure the camp remained a gift to the community, despite challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s an obvious understatement, but 2020 has been a unique year for all of us filled with unique challenges and unique successes,” Dean said.
“A couple of weeks ago I stood in front of my laptop thinking, ‘How does one lead an organization when the organization cannot do the thing it is literally designed to do?’ So much of what we do is customer service focused, camps, hosting schools, community groups, companies, holding events and all of the other ways in which our site gets used,” he said.
However, as Dean looked back, he was overwhelmed by what Camp Chestermere was able to accomplish in 2020.
Through the Keep Camp Alive campaign, over $93,000 was raised since May, Camp Chestermere hosted online camps, sold groceries through the Pratt’s Food Box Program, hosted social distance day camps, invented new guest services and activities, and began new programs and events including the Christmas Baking Program, and Candy Cane My Yard.
“We pivoted in so many ways this year. Through all of this, I learned the answer to my own question asked earlier about leadership. The way you lead an organization when it can’t do what it is designed to do is to remember that what we are designed to do is be a blessing to the community and the value never changed,” Dean said.
“You lead by having an incredibly dedicated team around you and relying on the help of volunteers all the while holding onto our values of Building Relationships, Creating Experiences and Developing People,” he said.
Throughout the year, the most significant challenges Camp Chestermere had to overcome included not being able to host user groups and run overnight camps.
“Overnight camps are a huge part of who we are, and so to not be able to do that was really hard. It has been financially hard to see our way through the pandemic and so we are so thankful for the number of people and organizations who have donated, for the grants we have received, and for the government assistance we have been able to obtain,” Dean said.
Adding, “The biggest struggle though has been the constant need to pivot and shift. While we have been successful in doing so, we do miss doing things the way we used to.”
Despite the challenges, being able to run day camps and have over 1000 people go through the site over the summer, and not have one case of COVID-19 was a highlight for Dean.
“While we followed all of the Alberta Health Services (AHS) guidelines when you were here during the day, camp was camp. Kids rode bikes, played on the beach, shot arrows, power tubed, played games, did devotions, and just enjoyed being at camp,” Dean said.
“It was great having children back on site and the staff did a phenomenal job of keeping it fun while keeping everyone safe,” he added. “Thank you for the positive feedback and support that we received from so many families.”
Hosting user groups in the fall at a limited capacity, following all health restrictions, remaining COVID-19 free, the community supporting programs such as the Pratt’s Food Box program, online camp, and Christmas Baking Program were more highlights for Dean throughout the year.
“In the final week of the Christmas Baking Program, we baked 3372 individual items, and we made over 6000 items through the program. Doing the deliveries and seeing the joy on people’s faces was awesome,” Dean said.
“Doing the Candy Cane My Yard was amazing. Seeing the kids run out to find the candy canes after they were hidden. Having people interact with Santa, in a safe way of course, but it was awesome,” he added. “I was walking around in a Christmas onesie wearing an elf hat and shoes and one little guy called me a garden gnome. It was just awesome to get out and interact with the community again.”
Throughout 2020, Chestermere residents showed their support for Camp Chestermere by volunteering.
Volunteers helped in the spring to get Camp Chestermere ready for day camp, over 2000 volunteer hours were put in over the summer, volunteers helped clean up leaves in the fall, and volunteers helped with the Christmas Baking Program and Candy Cane My Yard.
The Rotary Club of Chestermere also donated a snow and leaf blower in 2020.
“That was huge considering the equipment our snow removal company uses for our parking lot got stuck and so the only way we could dig out was with the snowblower,” Dean said.
In the new year, Dean is confident that overnight camp will return, and he is excited to continue the Candy Cane My Yard, and Christmas Baking Program next holiday season.
“We want to continue to find ways to be a blessing to the community as we see ourselves through this pandemic,” Dean said.
Adding, “We want to say thank you so much to the community for continuing to support us at this time.”