As COVID-19 canceled in-person gatherings this summer, Holt Adoptee Camp moved online — offering a virtual camp experience for over 400 youth adoptees, including many adoptees who had never attended Holt camp before.
Holt Camp at Home just completed our first ever camp season online and the experience has been wild! As the effects of COVID-19 spread across the country, closing down schools and many youth summer programs, Holt Adoptee Camp was no exception to the growing risk of meeting together and the decision had to be made to cancel our in-person camp season.
“What do we do if there is no Holt Camp?”
This was a question the Holt post-adoption team was not exactly prepared to answer when we started 2020. It was daunting, and for a while, I knew that I was just working to get over my own state of shock. How could we still bring camp to youth Adoptees? Would anyone even be interested in a virtual version of camp? We did not know the answers to these questions, but we were determined to try.
Within twelve weeks of planning, the post-adoption team had a concept, a curriculum, a schedule, a program name, and an amazing team of volunteer counselors. We opened registration and we sat wide-eyed as the number of participants just kept increasing. Every morning, our camp registrar, Pame Chow, would check the numbers, which seemed to be building so quickly, only to see them double by the next morning. We put a cap on the number of campers, then we opened a wait list and then eventually opened an entirely new afternoon session.
In the end, we had over 400 registrations for Holt Camp at Home and it left our team almost speechless.
In order to create a camp-like experience, we took the lessons we’ve learned from the Circle Back program, which happens in a virtual space, and worked to integrate fun activities with intentional opportunities to talk about adoption. Our hope was that we would create a program fun enough that campers wanted to stick around, but also not miss the potential to talk about Adoptee identity and community. Every year, we know that kids come to camp who have never had the opportunity to spend time with other Adoptees.
Holt Adoptee Camp is meant to be a place where young Adoptees can learn more about the large community that they are a part of — and we did not want this year’s campers to miss out on this important opportunity.
Our camp days were a mix of laughter, chaos and conversation. We had two hours with each group of about 50 campers and we made sure that every minute counted. Over the summer, four Tic-Tac-Toe tournament champions were crowned, scavenger hunts were had simultaneously in homes across the country, there were virtual dance parties, trivia games and even two talent shows. Alongside these events we gave space for more serious subjects such as talking about birth families, facing racism in public/at school, and identifying the communities that we are a part of and the role that they play in our lives.
At the end of every week, Joli, the camp director, led us all in a debrief of the week — and it was both wonderful and hilarious to hear the campers’ feedback. Campers loved being together, they wanted the camp day to be longer, they wanted more snacks, they wanted more time in small groups and they always talked about wanting to see each other in person. Around the middle of week two, I had a small epiphany and I looked at Joli through my screen and I said aloud, “I think we’re doing it. I think this actually feels like camp!”
Holt Camp at Home brought so many brand new faces and families to the camp program. Those that live far from Holt Adoptee Camp locations or are unable to attend physical Holt camp were able to officially become part of the camp family from their homes. Now that we’ve had this experience, I am so excited to see how the post-adoption team will be able to translate the lessons we’ve learned into further youth programming.
When I talk about camp to people outside of Holt they always remark about how much work it must take to Zoom with 50 kids at a time. It truly would not have been possible without the help we received from adult Adoptees who showed up every day to help mentor and spend time with campers.
When we set out to do camp online, there was a lot of uncertainty, but what we learned this summer is that although there is no replacement for in-person camp, there is also no replacement for Adoptees being able to spend time with other Adoptees.
Although we missed out on the camp meals together, campfires and sleeping in cabins, we were still able to share in the community together, learn from each other and have a lot of fun.
I’ll end with the final sentiment shared by an 11-year-old who stuck around as long as possible on the last day of camp. Right before he signed off, I asked him if he had any parting words for the staff. He looked away from his camera, taking a moment to think for quite a few seconds, and said, “This has been epic.”
Caitlin Howe | Adoptee Programs Coordinator