I learn so much from our campers. They provide a level of insight that’s integral to not only everything we do here, but to the very fabric of who we are.

When we were deliberating for many months over whether and how to safely open Kawaga this summer, what drove us to get to where we are now was the belief and determination that we could give our boys a special gift. We knew if there ever was a summer when kids needed camp, it was this one. That kept us going, always looking for new, better solutions to make this dream happen.

During each of our team’s regular meetings over a period of months, we reminded ourselves of our end goal: providing our campers with all the typical benefits of camp — from being with their friends and enjoying our beautiful setting to competing, laughing, and learning all day long. This goal fueled all of us in making this camping season happen.

But until you speak to a Kawaga camper and really listen, you don’t fully understand the depth of this gift of #CK2020.

A few nights ago, after rounds (that’s when Lauren and I walk from cabin to cabin after “lights out,” asking the boys if “Everybody’s in?” “Everybody’s all right” and saying “Good night, fellas”), I spent some time chatting with the older boys in their cabins. That’s when a camper shared an insight that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

He explained that for the first time in four months he feels free from the pandemic. To be clear, neither he nor any of his family members or close friends have been infected. But, like all of us, every aspect of his life has been impacted by this virus.

School essentially stopped. eLearning began. No more sports and activities with friends. No more school events and traditional celebrations. And, even when the promise of some type of camping season was floated, it was far less than certain.

Then he learned of our decision to open and his parents’ decision to allow him to join us. But, before he could get here, he needed to quarantine for 14 days and get tested. Even the drop-off at the bus site was a stark reminder of these times: a drive-by goodbye, wearing a mask, sitting distanced on the bus, arriving at different times on The Shores, and staying within cohorts for 14 days. Getting retested. And then the announcement. The gift.

Your boys are truly Covid-free. Yes, they tested negative, but as this Oneida camper so insightfully explained to me, he and his fellow Braves are free — for the first time in months — of having their life turned upside down and taken over by this disease.

Parents, we only have three-and-a-half more weeks up here. But, please know that these will be weeks that will forever impact your boys. They’re at their home-away-from-home with their friends and counselors, having the summer that we all hoped and dreamed for them.

You’re our essential partners in all of this. We talk about being a Kawaga family, but that’s never felt more real or more meaningful than this summer. You didn’t just give your boys this gift of Kawaga2020; you worked to also give it to all of our campers. The Deerfield parents, by quarantining your boys before camp, took care of our Atlanta boys. The Cincinnati families took care of our Scottsdale families. And, our Chicago parents assured that our Detroit families could receive this unprecedented gift.

Your boys are taking a much-needed special break from the news, the worries, the debates, the stress, and the mounting damage from this crisis. We’re doing everything we can to ensure that this gift is even more than what you and we imagined. Kawaga campers are living in this protective, warm, wonderful bubble, thanks to you.

You’ve all seen the video when I announced with megaphone in hand to the waiting boys and counselors that we successfully made it through one of our biggest hurdles: being Covid-free after 14 days of staying within our cohorts. My favorite photo might be the one above, showing a couple of campers anticipating and sensing the news and its ensuing relief, holding back others until it’s clear that it’s true: it’s safe to run together in exhilaration and pure joy.

Thank you, parents, for making this possible. We still have more than three weeks to go. Please know that we’re being ever diligent in keeping everybody healthy and safe, as your sons experience a true Kawaga summer. Together, with your support, we’ve distanced these boys from the pandemic.

Be Brave. Be Strong. Be Kawaga.