The Wait

Dear Walden Family,

It’s been just over 3 weeks since we communicated with you. We feel that it is time to reconnect. In case you missed them, the two letters that we’ve sent since this crisis began can be found here and here.

Some time ago, when you invited me in to your home to consider registering your child at Walden, I promised you that: (1) your child would be treated with the same care for safety as if they were playing with friends in your backyard, and (2) that they would develop special kinds of friendships, camp friendships, that they will hold on to for their lifetime.

Unless we can deliver on these two promises, camp will not open this summer.

This letter is neither a sad letter of closure, nor a hopeful letter about opening. We are waiting and here’s why:

Sometimes time can act in our favour in the process of difficult decision making. Differentiating between what we need to know now, and what we will be better equipped to decide later has been the approach that has guided us through this crisis from the beginning.

Several of our fellow camps have already closed. We have tremendous respect for the ways in which they came to that decision and communicated that decision to their families. It was the right decision for them and may ultimately be the conclusion we must reach.

With about two months to go until we propose starting camp, we want to be as sure as we can be that we’ve exhausted all options. Having said that, we are concerned about raising your hopes unfairly … stringing you along… setting you and your children up for a greater disappointment later.

So… we are actively doing something that is very difficult for us Directors to do: Wait.

Waiting to assess further developments so that our ultimate decision is in the best interest of our campers and staff.

Clearly, this summer is already different from the one all of us imagined. Even if we could open, we would still delay our start date so that we can fully prepare our staff and site for camp.

The government has yet to indicate whether camps will be permitted to operate this summer. In addition, and despite the immense efforts we have made together with the Ontario Camps Association, we have not yet received any guidance from Public Health outlining the protocols that camps would need to adhere to.

There are four outcomes still at play:

1. CAMPS ARE NOT REOPENED BY THE GOVERNMENT IN TIME: This is a sad, real possibility.

2. PHYSICAL DISTANCING IN THE MOST SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT: Some of our American counterparts are describing extensive requirements in some States for physical distancing between children – eating separately, sleeping distantly, no hugging, no dancing, no sharing paintbrushes, and certainly no kiss at the dance. There is a certain level of camp transformation that we feel will create a negative outcome that has the potential to work against the Walden spirit and experience and the creation of camp friendships that we promised you. If the parameters are just unmeetable and just so opposite to what camp is all about… If Public Health imagines, or your child’s safety requires, an overnight camp experience where a staff member can’t feel confident putting their arms around a homesick camper, then we will not open camp this summer.

You deserve to know exactly how we would handle closure. If camp can’t open, here are many details about the mechanics of closure.

3. LOCKDOWN: If, as part of the slow reopening of society, it is communicated to us soon by Public Health, that life with a large but nearly-isolated community at camp, is safer for kids than life in the city, we might be able to open camp. Even then, for the reasons stated, our start date would be mid-July or later. In this scenario, we would need a thumbs up from our staff working in this environment, our own medical consultants and health team, our campers and, of course, you, to determine if we can implement measures that realistically provide for the health and safety of everyone at Walden.

If camp can open, here are some more details about the mechanics of what that might look like.

We are mindful that camp is always your choice, and no matter what we decide, or is decided for us all, you will be supported in making any choice you want at no penalty.

4. AUGUST SMALL GROUP CAMPS OR FAMILY CAMPS: If we conclude that “normal camp” is not happening, then the door would be open for us to turn our efforts toward different programs running in August. Our loyal families, like you, would have first access to such programs. However, they would be registered separately from our usual summer programs.

Since this pandemic began, everything in the world is different… but your children can rely on the fact that when they do return to Walden, whenever that is, everything that matters, everything that they remember, will be the same.

Very sincerely,
Sol & Jen and Howie & Sari

THE MECHANICS OF OPERATING

As outlined in our last letter, there is one model where we are directing most of our planning efforts, and that is a full-length or nearly full-length season with a late start and a near-isolation approach. The new target first day of camp for us, and this may change again, is July 10. We would hope to operate as many of our usual programs that we can. All activities would be in-camp (no trips, no visitors), and campers would arrive by car. There will be heightened screening restrictions and a commitment from parents to be ready to take home campers in case of illness. Parents would have to fill out swim forms, health forms, and complete payment over the course of a few days instead of weeks. It would be rushed for you to get packed and for us to get ready, but we will open if we can for what would surely be the most memorable summer in history.

THE MECHANICS OF NOT OPERATING

Please note: If we do operate, these provisions also apply to families who, for whatever reason, choose not to attend.

Please trust that we plan to handle closure in the same way we handle camp: with honesty and transparency. Here are the specific details if we do not operate this summer.

To say this all simply:
If you are sure you are not attending in 2021, we will be giving you a full refund. If you are even considering returning in 2021, please leave your registration with us, at least for now, and change your mind at any time before March 1 at no penalty. In addition to helping camp, you and your family will have access to a multi-year incentive as our thank you.

Here are all the details:

  • 100% REFUND for those families who cannot return in 2021: The fees you have paid for 2020 are 100% refundable. We hope you will apply your fees as a credit to next year, but if you don’t, we will refund your fees in full on or before Sept. 1 (If your need for a refund is even more urgent, you will have an opportunity to let us know, and we will make every effort to accelerate this.)
  • 100% CREDIT for those families intending to return in 2021: We are hoping you will agree to let us “roll” your camper’s registration into 2021 – one year older, one half unit later*, but in the same cabin group. Your fees will be fully credited.
  • NO STRESS: We don’t want you to feel any pressure to make quick decisions about the future. “Rolling” your registration into 2021 secures your spot. You can cancel at any time before March 1, 2021 at no cost to you. For example, if you decide to “roll” into 2021 now, but want to cancel in the Fall, you will receive your 100% refund in the Fall. Please note: we will be opening up camp to new campers on August 15.
  • LOYALTY to you first and making sure that your spots at Walden remain yours. We will not open registration to new campers until we’ve heard from all of you and given you a chance to be comfortable about your decision.
  • INCENTIVES for those families who keep their funds with us and intend to return: As a special thank you, those families that agree to leave whatever funds paid to date, will freeze their fees for both the 2021 and 2022 seasons at 2020 rates. Whatever sessions and discount options you choose for your campers in 2021 and 2022, you will get the rate indicated on the 2020 rate card. This can be applied to any new younger siblings as well. We can’t imagine a world where rates go up significantly in 2021 but rates will have to increase in 2022. We hope this incentive is seen as significant because we want to significantly say thank you to the families that stay with us through this unprecedented time.
  • CONNECTION to you and your family throughout this “long pause” in groups online, but also personally when permitted: In the event of closure, we, as camp directors, will find ourselves with some extra time on our hands this summer. We intend to use that time to connect personally with each of you and to listen to your ideas for Walden’s present and future.

A few words about camp finances

We have two unexpected and massive burdens: the loss of a year’s revenue and income, and the additional costs associated with keeping the site safe while unused for a whole year – these are no small costs. These burdens are entirely ours. None of this is your responsibility. But we, the Birenbaums and Grossingers, are two families in partnership, and our small business looks like it will be shut down for a full year. We wanted you to understand why we need to ask you the following: Please stay with us! Please return to camp in 2021… and please leave your funds with us while you wait. Whether you do or not, we promise that we will spend all this unexpected extra time making the summer of 2021 a summer that the kids will always remember.

FAQs

*CITs is always described as the very best year of the whole Walden experience. Out of all of our campers, in the event of closure, the CITs of 2020 will be the most disappointed of all. We believe they deserve this experience, need and will benefit from the Counsellor In Training program. We want the staff that we hire for your children at Walden to be those that have completed our training program and we will always make room for well-intentioned and graduated CITs on the staff roster of the following year. We are lucky that we have the space and we have the cabins. With all this in mind, we’ve decided that the CITs of 2020 and 2021 would form a double cohort in 2021. The younger cohort will have the typical CIT experience. The older cohort will also have the typical experience with a few added Staff-like experiences. The fees for this 7-week program for each cohort will remain the same. But the older cohort will receive an honorarium of $400 (the normal 1st year salary) when they successfully complete the program. As an added feature, we will be bringing all registered older cohort CITs to Walden for 24 hours this Fall (if allowed) for a special “CIT ThinkTank”. We’d like to hear from them how we can make their unique experience even more special.

Since these campers now advance to grade 4, these options aren’t normally available. But given that this is their first overnight experience, we really want to make sure we get it right. So these unique campers will have a few options:

  • advance to the Comic Unit for a regular length session
  • advance to the Comic Unit for a special 2 week option in the first 2 weeks of camp in 2021
  • stay in the Colour Unit and attend the Weekend or Home and Away Program – they will be older than some of the other kids

Since these campers now advance to the next grade, these options aren’t normally available. But we will listen and work with you to figure out a solution that best meets the needs of your family. We are very open to making special exceptions for this group.

Clearly, we must postpone this year’s Family Weekend. We will be holding THREE new options for Family Weekend during the 2020/2021 school year to choose from.

  • October 2 – 4, 2020
  • June 11 – 13, 2021
  • June 18 – 20, 2021

We hope all those registered for our June 2020 weekend will be available to join us for one of these options. This new October option takes place on what is usually the most picturesque weekend of the year. We also hope that many new families will be able to join us. What a beautiful way to close out this crazy season. A full refund is available as well. More information will be provided shortly and a link will be available here.

Those families opting for the pay in full rate will be asked to pay their balance by August 15. For everyone else, outstanding balances will be collected in four equal instalments in 2021 on March 1, April 1, May 1, and June 1. This is a change from our normal April/May/June, and June-only options.

The First Day of camp is July 2, 2021! God willing, we will all be there together!

Only 274 days Left Until Camp!

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