North Star Reach provides no-cost, medically supported camp experiences for children who have a serious illness and are unable to attend a traditional summer camp. Located on 105 wooded acres in Pinckney, the camp opened in July 2016. Since then, nearly 3,000 children and their families from across Michigan, and the Chicago area, have attended a session. When the coronavirus struck in March 2020, North Star Reach was forced to make a decision to cancel its onsite programming. It was incredibly disappointing news to hundreds of kids who look forward to their summer camp experience all year long. For many, it’s a special time when being sick takes a back seat to being a kid.
Rather than accept defeat, the camp team created a bold new plan. Their pivot was to deliver a virtual camp experience for the children and their families that was rooted in the same sense of belonging and community as the typical in-person session.
North Star Reach is about to launch its 2020 summer camp-at-home experience, which will include Camp Care Packages for children and families this summer, and into the fall. The organization would welcome donations to support the expense of the materials and mailing costs for sending these Camp Care Packages to hundreds of families in Michigan, and in the Chicago area. Donations can be made at: www.northstarreach.org. For corporate sponsorships, please call Mary Ann Fithian at 734-474-5519.
Key Takeaways from Last Week’s Leaders Connect:
- While this time of change is unprecedented, our organization has found inspiration from the amazing families we serve for how to face disruption with resilience, grace, and courage.
- As a former nurse and clinical research director at the University of Michigan Transplant Center, Doug had an understanding in early March of the widespread impact the coronavirus was causing, especially as it related to the camp’s access to experienced health care professionals and medical supplies. Resources the camp relies heavily on to safely care for campers.
- As CEO, he made the incredibly difficult decision in mid-March to cancel North Star Reach’s onsite summer camp programs and pivot to virtual programs. By summer camp standards, North Star Reach was among the first to begin alternative planning due to COVID-19. As hard as that decision was, the decision gave its small staff time to thoughtfully plan and innovate a virtual approach.
- As a first step in translating highly personal (and mostly non-digital) camp experiences to new online spaces, the team took inventory of what its program and medical teams do exceptionally well when they are together caring for campers in person. Distilling those experiences down to a few visual diagrams helped the team to clearly see something they previously had mostly felt: that feeling of “camp magic.” Once everyone could see the elements, both human and programmatic, that contributed to making camp magic, the digital team could move forward with greater confidence in its online program design.
- Some core content strategies:
- Content must build community, not simply entertain.
- Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize
- Put in place a consistent weekly social calendar to provide stability and focus for editorial/communication teams
- Rely on accessible, inexpensive digital publishing and video conferencing tools (Private Facebook groups for family campers, Zoom, private website pages). Familiar tools are not only cheaper, but all team members can use them; you have more people iterating ideas without a lot of expense for learning what works best.
- This disruptive time has accelerated the camp’s program innovation, including a family support podcast, and virtual delivery for programs beyond its camp borders, to children who are isolated in hospitals or because of infections.