In 2020 when the Girls Quest Board of Directors made the decision to cancel Camp 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Connie Stine, our Camp Director, wasn’t willing to shut the door to providing a camping experience for girls. She decided that if we couldn’t physically bring girls together safely for camp at Camp Oh-Neh-Tah, she’d figure out a way to safely bring camp to our girls. And with that determination GirlsQUEST@Home (GQ@H) was born—a 10-day virtual camping experience delivered in the safety of a participant’s home. The program ran from August 3-12, 2020 and was held between 9am-12pm each day.
The Board sends THANKS and KUDOS to Connie for bringing her vision of GQ@H to fruition and successfully delivering the program that received rave reviews from participants, parents and instructors. The reviews were so good that the Board granted Connie’s request to offer the program on an on-going basis under the umbrella of GirlsQUEST@Home Year-Round (GQ@HYR). GQ@HYR is offered on select Saturdays from 1:00-4:00pm and the first workshop was delivered on October 17, 2020.
So let’s take a step back and look at what has made GQ@H and GQ@HYR so successful…….
First and foremost, Connie’s drive and commitment to bring our young campers together to interact, learn, grow and have F-U-N.
Second, Connie’s dedicated Planning Committee and Instructors who volunteer their time to develop the Workshops and/or facilitate them. Thanks to these individuals who give up their time for meetings and bring their expertise to the screen while working with young girls.
Third, a Workshop design that has proven to engage girls by providing variety that has continuity, opportunities for discussion and sharing, activities that tap creativity and free expression, and chances to participate in camp favorites that have been loved since the late 1800’s.
Focusing on the Workshops—they are themed and sometimes tie into a holiday or the season. February workshops focused on Valentine’s Day with workshops titles like Share the Love and Festival of Love. Spring brought Spring into Courage and Spring Shenanigans. Christmas, the busiest cookie making time of the year, had workshops entitled Cookies, Crafts and Confidence and Cookies and Compliments.
To get participants engaged and contributing, Connie created a “Gratitude Tree” (that has leaves that change with the season) and a “Kindness Bee”, as consistent visuals/activities that become a common thread through all the Workshops. Girls are asked different questions each Workshop that will surface answers related to gratitude or kindness and their responses are recorded and pinned to the Gratitude Tree or Kindness Bee. The earlier Workshops focused on gratitude and the more recent ones focused on kindness.
One of the elements that I really liked about the Workshops was Connie’s use of a book entitled A Strong Girl’s Guide to Being, by Lani Silversides. The book, which is part guided journal and part workbook, focuses on building self-esteem, seeing possibilities and maintaining a positive mindset. I also appreciate how Connie integrated topics that related to Black History Month and Women’s History Month (if she conducted a Workshop in February or March); and how she invited Guest Speakers, who addressed self-esteem and career topics, to bring a different voice to the Workshops.
Core elements of the Workshops that girls can count on include Craft Quest, Nature Quest, Song Fest, games and a physical activity like dance or yoga. They look forward to the “Quest Box” of supplies, that always arrives before a scheduled Workshop, to get a hint of the Craft Quest activity for the upcoming Workshop. Some of the Craft Quests have been putting together a Valentine Pillow, a Rustic Picture Frame, Christmas Ornaments, a Banner and a Courage Box. Girls have also decorated cookies as a craft activity.
Beavers, brown bears and honey bees have been the focus of Nature Quest, along with a game called Wildlife Fun. And Song Fest has pulled songs, from the Girls Quest Song Book, that girls have been singing at Camp Oh-Neh-Tah for years—the Beaver Song, Green Trees, Bananas, We Are Many and Taps. For games, the girls have played the Name Game, Confidence Jeopardy, a Trivial game on the Kahoots.it platform and their FAVORITE game—SCAVENGER HUNT.
The virtual program that was quickly developed as a replacement, has found a home in our program offering right next to SEED and the Teen Leadership programs. GQ@H and GQ@HYR have provided another avenue to reach our mission and has enabled us to keep girls engaged between camp sessions, build a stronger relationship with campers and families, and it serves as a feeder program to our camp program.
The next step for this virtual program is to occasionally come offline and into a physical space. We’d love to offer the Workshop face to face. Be on the lookout for that announcement.
Before I close this Blog, I just want to say “THANKS” again to Connie. Without her there would not be a GQ@H or GQ@HYR.
We were flying high because we finally had momentum again, and the future was so clear. WE WERE BACK!!
And then….COVID-19 came on the scene, made itself known in an ugly way, and forced the world to take notice.
Camp 2020 was no longer a done deal. The question became…. should we continue down the path to rollout resident camp with the risks associated with this new pandemic environment?
So the Girls Quest Board of Directors held a meeting to discuss the pros, cons, and risks of a “Go” or “No Go” decision to run Camp. We looked at data and input from the CDC, Department of Health (DOH), NY State, and the American Camp Association (ACA). After a robust discussion, we decided “No Go”. The risks to the health of our campers and staff were simply too high.
The plans for a resident camp were put aside and all efforts were quickly funneled into an alternative virtual camp experience using Zoom. GirlsQUEST@Home was born and executed and it birthed GirlsQUEST@Home Year-Round.
Fast forward to 2021. The pandemic is still with us and the Board found itself in another Board meeting and in the familiar position of making a “Go” or “No Go” decision about resident Camp for the summer. However this time conditions were better, more was known about COVID-19 and NY State had given the “OK” for summer resident camp. Also clear protection and operating guidelines existed from the CDC, DOH, ACA and the Association of Camp Nurses. During the Board meeting, Connie Stine, Board member and Camp Director, presented her argument for Camp in 2021 and she outlined the NPIs—Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions—she would put in place to keep campers and staff safe and healthy. She shared that she determined GQ’s NPIs after thrice reading the 120 page Field Guide for Camps on Implementation of CDC Guidelines, which outlined the “Gold Standards” for operating camps in 2021. Let me repeat that—she read it 3 times! Wow! Now that’s commitment to making sure you’re clear on the standards and that Girl Quest takes every step possible to minimize risk.
Some of the protocols Connie discussed putting in place address face masks, social distancing, reduced number of girls/counselors per cabin, acceptable camp activities, building sanitation, handwashing, health screening, daily temperature checks and Rapid testing. And this is a partial list of NPIs that relate to what would happen at Camp. There are also NPIs that address what staff and campers have to do before arriving at Camp in regards to vaccinations, quarantining, and testing.
After a lengthy discussion full of “what if’s” and questions for Connie, the Board voted and a “Go” decision was reached. The Board recognized that there were still some risks in running Camp, but felt that the NPIs planned would mitigate the majority of those risks. They also realized that girls really needed to get away to Camp after being locked inside for over a year. They needed nature. They needed the freedom to run around. They needed to physically see old friends and meet new friends. And they needed an escape from the computer screen. Executing our mission in 2021 became imperative. With that understanding, Connie was given the OK to move full steam ahead with plans to run Camp at Camp Oh-Neh-Tah.
WE ARE BACK! AGAIN.
At this time, the Girls Quest (GQ) Board and Senior Camp Staff want to provide you with a brief update regarding GQ’s Camp for the coming summer.
Since the health and safety of campers and camp staff has always been our highest priority, we are carefully observing health events and conditions as New York State continues to bear the brunt of the Coronavirus pandemic.
We are regulated by the Department of Health (DOH). Though we are continuing to prepare Camp for 50 girls this August, GQ will follow the mandates they establish in regards to conducting Camp this summer. As of the date of this post, they have not made any decision.
Girls Quest also follows the guidelines of the American Camp Association (ACA). They have also not provided any specific instructions for camp for this summer.
Following the guidance from the DOH and ACA, we will proceed with all due caution when making a decision regarding Camp 2020. We will inform you as soon as possible when such a decision is made. Until then, we will continue to monitor the situation and share monthly updates.
Please check our Facebook page and website (girlsquest.org) for these updates.
We would like to thank our first responders and healthcare workers on the frontline who are working courageously. We would also like to acknowledge the other unsung heroes who are keeping our cities and towns running.
During the cloudy periods, Eileen Murphy, our Board President, kept the Board motivated and believing that we could run camp again. Eileen has always been the strongest cheerleader. At times her faith carried us through. She never lost sight of the mission and Camp Oh-Neh-Tah’s original shine.
In 2016, the Board made a strategic decision to strengthen our relationship with our Alumnae. I believe it was one of the best decisions we made. Bringing back Alumnae Weekends has been therapeutic. I think the property missed X chromosomes and could tell that Alumnae were visitors from the past. With some elbow grease and tender loving care, Camp Oh-Neh-Tah responded well and began to shake off the years of stillness and layers of dust and came back to life. It became welcoming again.
As we prepare for Camp 2019, memories that had been buried are coming back to the surface. Looking at old pictures and realizing the joy that Camp Oh-Neh-Tah brought to thousands of girls, fills our hearts with pride. Knowing that our efforts are about to impact another generation of young girls is extremely exciting and rewarding.
We’re blessed that we kept the faith, learned a few valuable lessons along the way, received generous donations that financed a part of Camp Oh-Neh-Tah’s facelift, and unearthed enough passion to keep everything moving in the right direction.
I send my “Thank You” to everyone who helped Girls Quest find our way back.