When we made the final decision in May to open for Summer 2020, the number one question asked was, “will camp still feel like camp?” A reasonable question given the pandemic and the necessary measures we would have to take to ensure camp was a safe place. Patty, Marcy, and I quickly answered this question with, of course, camp will always feel like camp. Our hearts and heads knew Pinecliffe was where our girls belonged for the summer, and thankfully, that decision was embraced by our camp families and by our staff. It is safe to say, 2020 will be a summer we will never forget: a summer made possible by a unique combination of hard-work, trusting families, dedicated staff, alumnae, and of course Pinecliffe girls willing to do whatever necessary to spend 4 weeks at their second home. For 33 days, camp felt more like Pinecliffe than ever before. We shared 4 weeks of pure magic, joy, smiles, tradition, color war, sports, theatre, sun, swimming, sailing, arts, brown and blue, and so much more, while feeling like we were home together at our favorite place.
Preparing for a summer at camp is never an easy task, this summer we were presented with more challenges than ever before. What would camp look like during COVID-19? No one had the answer. Assisted by the most committed and supportive medical team, the CDC, the State of Maine, and the American Camping Association, we came up with the best answer we could to that enormous question. We prepared a long, comprehensive policy on how to run Pinecliffe during COVID-19. As we learned more and more information, we edited, deleted, and edited that policy again and again. There were layers upon layers of protocols all designed to mitigate any potential spread of coronavirus throughout camp, and to navigate through what to do if there was an instance of the virus, or more… I will spare you the details, and sum it up simply with: it worked. We had zero cases of coronavirus. Zero. Our staff came to camp healthy, stayed healthy, and left healthy. Our campers came to camp healthy, stayed healthy, and left healthy. The summer of 2020 was a medical success.
While we are exceptionally proud of the medical success, the real success of 2020 was the experience we shared during 4 weeks at camp. Kids, got to be kids. Girls learned new skills, gained confidence, discovered their independence, and spent cherished time with their friends. Counselors taught skills and life lessons. Despite a pandemic, this is not new. This is what Pinecliffe has always been about, the moments that make us a community and a family, the moments that create learning, the friendships we treasure, and the traditions we keep alive each and every summer. Every moment was felt and experienced, even with face-coverings and physical distancing.
If you’re wondering, we did A LOT of activities this summer, just like we do every other summer. There were day hikes to experience the quiet nature of Maine, water-skiing, swimming, sailing, kayaking, paddle boarding, soccer, tennis, drama, silver, ceramics, arts, dance, basketball, high ropes, low ropes, a new bouldering wall, and so much more. Sometimes we wore masks to activities or we stayed 6 feet away from anyone who was not in our camp “family,” we washed (or sanitized) our hands all the time, and we cleaned, everything, over and over again. We held our plays and musicals outside, rather than in, and in the process created a magical outdoor theatre where we watched our campers perform. We ate with our bunks, and then with our age group, instead of mixed age groups, and in doing so we developed friendships that will last a lifetime. We elected captains, had Color War, held our Sing, played team games, a tennis tournament, swim meets, and even a regatta. And just like every summer, one team won, congrats to Blue 2020. There were Campfires, Dutch Auction, Human Scrabble, the Great Escape, Crystal Carnival, Pine Take Over, Ten Day Calendar, Captain’s Night, Banquet, and the list goes on, just like every summer. Sure, some of our time honored traditions looked different, but at the end of everyday, after milk and cookies on our orange dots (what’s an orange dot? a lawn full of orange dots, each 6 feet apart, a place to safely gather and chat with anyone, without a mask), Taps would play, and Pinecliffe felt just like Pinecliffe.
We said good-bye to Summer 2020, almost three weeks ago, there was not a dry eye that morning. Since then, we’ve received so many messages of gratitude from our Pinecliffe families. Parents reaching out to say how happy their daughter was this past summer, how important it was for their child to have camp this summer, a much needed sense of normalcy in a time that is anything but normal, as one parent put it, “while it is hard to believe all that is going on in the world, it is comforting to know that places like Pinecliffe, managed by people like you, can truly work and make all the difference for impressionable girls.”
Since camp, I’ve also thought about gratitude. How thankful we are to have a community that is defined by trust and support. On behalf of all of us - a giant thank you to our families that knew and believed Pinecliffe was the best place for their daughter this summer, our alumnae who came to work at camp and help wherever and whenever they were needed, and to our staff who taught and cared for our campers all summer. Mostly, thank you to our Pinecliffe girls, who each and every day this summer reminded us, through smiles, laughter, countless questions, occasional tears, jokes, hair braiding requests, and simply by being kids, why opening camp was the right decision for the Summer of 2020 and just how important the feeling of Pinecliffe is.
Curious about our summer? Watch our 2020 virtual tour video!
Maja Toncic is the Assistant Director at Camp Pinecliffe, working closely with Patty, Marcy, and Casey. She began her Pinecliffe summers as a third generation camper in 1990, and in 2000 returned as a counselor. She has worked with our Cliffes, as a Smallcraft instructor, as the Assistant Director of Swim, a Senior Group Leader, Program Director, and now an Assistant Director.