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In June, I created a summer camp on the driveway that ran for eight weeks and ended up being a salvation for us and other parents around the neighborhood. It was a spectacular experience for all involved and a powerful exercise in activating and innovating against the backdrop of uncertainty.

We would never have ever imagined doing something like this if not for Covid. But the idea of our then 8-year old son being home all summer, with little to do and drawn toward the screen, terrified me. 

About six weeks into our lockdown, some beautiful outdoor play started to happen organically on our driveway between my son and our 20-year old neighbor. They wore rubber gloves, dishwashing gloves, winter gloves and used different balls to try and maintain separation/lack of touching surfaces. And little by little, other kids – young like Milan and older like Oliver started to drop by the driveway for some very necessary physical activity and company. 

When summer camps announced that they were shutting down for the summer, I started nudging Oliver about creating a camp. And when the moment was right, he collected some friends from the block, and together we created the blueprint for what became Camp Howland.

 

Camp Howland Blueprint – How You Do It

The seeds of Camp Howland would be planted as I began talking to Oliver Sabiston about starting a camp for the neighborhood kids.  He rounded up five friends that live on our block to be camp counselors, and we identified ten families on our immediate block that had kids between the ages of 5-12. Within two days, we were sold out. We created rules that they had to live close enough to go home to use the restroom. They washed hands with soap and water at the hose each time they entered the driveway, everything was done outside on the driveway and garage. The camp day was structured in two units of time. Camp ran from 9-12 each morning and from 1-3 each afternoon. Kids went home from 12-1pm for lunch and bathroom (as much as possible). 

I never dreamed that I would apply my entrepreneurial soul and business skills to become a camp director. And all along, as we built and ran this camp program, I had this sense that Camp Howland was the initial seed for an opportunity we might be able to share much farther than just our neighborhood. If we could share the model with others who might discover a way to build a version of camp that worked for them, then maybe we could help many parents’ lives run smoother.  

 

Camp Howland – Positive Outcomes

We had resounding pieces of feedback. Every child said it was the best camp that they ever attended. For both the big kids (counselors) and the little kids (campers), they had somewhere to go and something to do. Friends to see. When you put kids together, they play the way they play. Togetherness is such an innate part of how we function. Camp Howland also created income for those who had lost their jobs. Every parent said you saved my life. Parents finally had some structure and something for the kids to do after months of lockdown. 

Camp Howland, which ran on our driveway and at parks throughout the neighborhood, has morphed into an after school program during the school year. We’re running art class for a group of girls on Mondays in our art studio garage, afterschool sports three days a week, and the kids love it. 

 

Activating Others

Children need moments of joy every day. We, we all need that. How do we create joy for our kids at this moment? Because then the parents also are happier. 

How do we help other parents that are dealing with this? How do we transform our work lives against the backdrop of the pandemic? Camp Howland was how we solved some of these challenges in our personal lives. 

What I did with Camp Howland, can be recreated anywhere. It’s not exclusive to me, but we do need to find the parents in any community that would activate it at the center as I did. And then find support around it by changing lives. 

Our event on Saturday, November 21st, Surviving the School Year, aims to help parents worldwide navigate this roller coaster year and come out of this event with resources and takeaways for making their own lives better and happier for everyone. My highest intention is that families come away better resourced to help children have what they need and what parents need and what couples need.

As part of the takeaways from Surviving the School Year, we’ll be able to leave behind a template of how one can brainstorm, what resources are available for them, and then create a camp or anything we’re still running. Families will have the opportunity to brainstorm, hear from other parents in different parts of the world on how they’re struggling, or how they’re making their lives work. 

If each of us walks away with some ideas that we didn’t have before the event, then I would consider that a huge success.