What Should the Voters Know?:
When tasked with determining appropriate programming for our families when Covid-19 was somewhat new in the summer of 2020, we were excited to provide our campers with two full virtual camps with engaging activities that mirrored the camp experience. None of us suspected that adjusted programming would be something that we would have to recreate one year later. However, in the Spring of 2021, it became apparent that this was going to be our task. As always, we approached it with the thought that we wanted our campers to feel the love, support, and excitement that they feel at camp through a variety of programming opportunities. Due to the decreased number of cases in our area at that time, we had support from our medical team to have a hybrid summer. Our goal was to have some in-person, socially distanced and outdoor activities for our campers as well as virtual activities for those that did not feel comfortable with in-person activities yet.
The determination was made that we would have one combined age-group virtual camp for our first summer camp. It was crucial that we provide activities during this virtual camp for our participants that would address a variety of age groups. In addition, we knew that we must provide personal interactions frequently because we knew that many were suffering with technology fatigue. What could be a better theme than Olympics for this 2021 year because we know that many together bring strength! Our daily activities were explicitly outlined in our schedule of events. All supplies for each day were placed in bags with labels that separated each day’s activity supplies from other days’ supplies to alleviate any stress for families when opening the box. In addition, we uploaded videos that specifically reviewed each activity on our YouTube page. These could be viewed at any time. Each day, we provided one to two contests that allowed campers to submit an entry to our Smile-A-Mile staff. We would then compile these, and campers would vote on the winner through a Zoom poll each evening during our evening live sessions. In addition, we provided some activities that encouraged family interaction to, again, focus on personal relationships. This year, we made sure that our Live sessions involved some sort of game such as a Virtual Scavenger Hunt, Talent Show, or Family Bingo. In addition to all activities, we provided each family with a Wal-Mart gift card for all refrigerated cooking items needed as well as a Domino’s gift card for our Family Pizza and Bingo night.
In addition to our virtual camp, we knew that we must provide experiences for our campers and families that followed a strict Covid protocol while providing the amazing experience that Smile-A-Mile offers each summer to our campers. Because, at that time, vaccinations were not approved for children younger than 12, we decided that we would hold in-person, outdoor day camps for this age group. In planning these, we considered geographical concerns since we serve families across the state of Alabama. Thus, we planned one Day Camp in Birmingham at Regions Field and two-Day Camps in the middle of the state at our normal camp site near Alex City, Alabama. At the beginning of all Smile-A-Mile Day Camps, our medical team tested each camp participant using a rapid test. All volunteers were vaccinated. Due to these efforts, we had no cases of Covid spread during our camp activities.
Between our Smile-A-Mile Day Camp and virtual offerings, we provided a variety of family activities across the state of Alabama. From Movie Nights at Regions Field to baseball games in both Birmingham and Montgomery, we wanted to spend time with our families in a Covid-safe way. Personal relationships are the heart of what we do, and it was crucial that we spend time with our families. As mentioned, we knew that technology fatigue was an issue for many of our families, and we felt we must have face-to-face activities. Through these offerings, we were able to achieve this goal.
It was our steadfast hope at the beginning of the summer of 2021 that we would be able to have camp for our Junior and Senior campers as well as for those that had completed their Freshman year in college who had missed the Jr/Sr Camp in 2020. Many of these campers have been part of the SAM family for many years, and it was imperative that we have in-person camp for this age group to honor their time with Smile-A-Mile. After extensive conversations with our medical team, it was determined that we could have in-person camp for this age group. To spend the night, each camper provided proof of vaccination. Without vaccination, campers were able to participate each day as day campers. Our medical team tested them each day to ensure that we were having our camp in a Covid-safe environment. Again, due to these efforts, we had no case of Covid spread during our camp activities.
In addition to SAM at Home Virtual Camp, Smile-A-Mile Day Camps, Jr/Sr Camp, and family outings, we continued to visit our patient families when in-patient in the hospital weekly. We provided "New to Care" kits to our new families. Every week, we visited families in their hospital room and provided support for them while in-patient. We supplied activities for CCTV throughout Children's Hospital as well as went "live" twice a month to do these activities with the children. Our SAM family worked diligently to create relationships with those in the hospital so that they would know who Smile-A-Mile is and so that we could support them during this very difficult time. In December of 2021, we were granted permission to see our families once again in the activity room on the floor. This allows us to serve far more families which is our priority. We are hopeful that this will continue.
While focusing on safety for all, our campers and families have been able to build lasting memories throughout the Spring and Summer of 2021. This year has truly been a year of hope for us. At each turn, we have turned our hopes into reality while continuing to meet the needs of our families and campers.