The anticipation of volunteering at a children’s overnight summer camp morphed into planning a virtual camp on the fly, thanks to COVID-19. Conducted through a series of Zoom calls, breakout rooms, prerecorded programing and activity kits sent in the mail, the challenge was to create an interactive week for over 100 kids between the ages of 6 and 18 — which is a challenge virtual or not! Besides the important discovery of the “mute all” feature on Zoom, the week presented many learnings in the realm of virtual events.
1) Create cohesive, organized internal communications
There are literally countless ways to communicate virtually, and in a collaborative event (such as a camp), this is very helpful. We were able to communicate with the camp families by sending an email recap each day, posting live updates and photos to Facebook and Instagram and sharing prerecorded videos and activities over YouTube. Internally, however, counselors were communicating with each other on all different platforms (texts, Snapchat groups, GroupMe app messages, emails, Zoom calls, FaceTimes … ) and pieces of valuable information began to get lost among the massive text chains.
2) Be prepared and overprepared
Planning for a virtual camp resulted in long list of rules in order to conduct a successful and safe children’s online event. A few included ensuring that we had at least two counselors on a call at all times, providing extra training for hosting a Zoom call or leading an activity, disabling chat and whiteboard features, etc. Counselors were asked to be prepared and organized in a much different way the typical preparation for an in-person camp.
3) Develop the ability to pivot quickly
You’d be surprised at how many times I got a message from a fellow volunteer saying that “something came up” and he or she was not able to participate in an activity. Many times I wondered the level of urgency of these situations … regardless, the Zoom call must go on! Flexibility was even more valuable during virtual camp than it is in person. Technical difficulties, the lack of situational control and the unpredictability of a child’s mind created instances that you just couldn’t train for. Being able to pull a quick game out of your back pocket was priceless. “Anyone up for a game of I Spy?” Answer: “Yes.”
While the learning curve was heftier than anticipated, the option of going virtual thanks to the Zoom platform was the only reason the camp took place at all this year. And like so many things that changed in 2020 due to the global pandemic, I think it’s safe to say both campers and counselors will never forget the experience.