It was March 2020 when my world shut down. Everything I do involves schools—my presentations, after-school and lunch-hour programs, everything. I was going to Barbados to perform at a school, then to Calgary and Edmonton in June, Scotland. I started to think I was getting too busy, then nothing! I may have thought too loud.

I am an optimist. We had three months until summer camp. I figured COVID would be over by July. As we got closer to camp, a decision had to be made. My first big decision was how I was going to handle refunds. How could I cancel a registration and have parents not lose their non-refundable fee? I wanted to create a policy that would benefit the families who register for camp. When parents register for camp, I pay a non-recoupable processing fee. I needed to create a fair policy for the families, balanced with surviving a major financial blow to my business.

The first refund policy I created had options. Parents could transfer all their funds to a credit on their account. They would receive a discount on the fees for 2021. Or, if they needed their money, they would receive their funds, minus their non-refundable fee, which would be given back to them as a credit. This seemed a fair policy, considering we were still waiting to see if the camp would operate. There is only a little benefit to Kids 4 Kids, allowing parents to move their funds into a credit. This policy would help parents keep all their funds.

The government was taking its time deciding what would happen with camps. I am sure it was difficult, but their delayed decision made it difficult to move forward. Some parents were panicking and cancelling their camp registrations. My camper numbers were slowly shrinking. Would I have enough campers to run camp? I had no idea.

Then, an announcement. All sleep-away camps would not operate, but day camps would likely run. Most likely? This was not a definitive answer. This announcement was allowed by the City of Toronto cancelling all their day camps with an alternative. This pushed some parents into a knee-jerk reaction. The funny thing, well, not that funny, was the alternative that the City of Toronto was speaking about an outside day camp in their parks. They just cancelled the day camps that ran in their community centres.

The government finally announced that day camps could run with mandated processes and policies. But what were they? I had been creating many different scenarios for day camp. I knew they would all involve hand sanitizer and handwashing products. I found a distributor in Brantford and ordered one thousand dollars worth of these products. It’s a good thing I ordered them in April because every company was out of stock in June.

In mid-June, the government finally released the policies that summer day camps needed to follow. I was hoping these would not include masks. Masks would be a health and safety issue during the hot days of summer. Can you imagine kids running around in masks in 100-degree weather? And what would happen if a child went missing?

Can you describe the missing child? Sure, he had a mask on and…

Luckily, masks were not mandated. However, group sizes and cohort sizes were. How would I pull off a camp when groups could be at most fifty, and the cohort had to be no higher than ten? I am still awaiting a definitive answer from Camp Sidrabene about whether I would be permitted to run a camp on their property.

After a few meetings with the camp chairs and the camp board meeting separately, we were given the go-ahead to operate the camp. Camp Sidrabene permitted us to use two areas on their property to divide our one hundred campers into two teams. We presented a health and safety plan that reflected the precautions we would take while running camp. I hired additional staff, supervised the cohorts, limited enrolment to one hundred campers, hired two cleaning staff and created a process that would ensure camper safety. 

This involved daily temperature checks for my staff, encouraging parents to check their children for illness before coming to camp, fastening hand-cleaning foam dispensers to trees and tent poles, and washing all camp equipment. I staggered entry into camp and encouraged parents to drop their children off and leave quickly. One of my staff was a nursing student with a pandemic training certificate. I also had a service that sprayed the washrooms weekly. I added every precaution I could think of to ensure I exceeded the government mandate’s expectations. We encouraged social distancing; however, this was done more by keeping the kids in their cohort than by ensuring every camper was six feet apart. This is not realistic with children. It would only sometimes happen at camp, and it would happen at school. Social distance was encouraged when realistically possible.

Creating refund policies and health and safety protocols was time-consuming and sometimes overwhelming. I spent three hours every morning answering emails, cancelling registrations and working on protocols. I often wondered if I should have cancelled camp for the summer.

I felt a sense of obligation to the students I hired. I knew they depended on me for the money needed for university. I was committed to the families who trusted me and the children hoping for camp. Children already had their school, and many extracurricular activities were cancelled. I didn’t want to add to the disappointment children were facing.

To offer camp his summer was going to be the biggest decision of my life. There were so many unknowns: what would happen if a camper staff member got sick; what would happen if I got sick; would I be seen as a villain for offering camp; how would the parents be? I would be risking my entire reputation and business. Was it going to be worth it?

I decided to offer camp mainly to help children with their mental health. I have spoken with many families who have children struggling with social isolation. The mental health of children was profoundly affected. Then I saw the video. I watched a video on Facebook that was posted by a dad who lost his son to COVID-19. His son didn’t die from the virus. He committed suicide because of the effects of social isolation. I knew I had to run the camp when I saw this emotionally packed video. I didn’t know what it would be like running camp through a pandemic, but seeing this video made me realize the importance of camp for children’s mental health.

I have dealt with anxiety issues all my life. I have figured out strategies that help me deal with stress and anxiety. I understand the need to be social and not be isolated. Children needed camp, and I was adamant about making it happen. It wasn’t going to be easy. I knew my anxiety levels would be through the roof. But the importance of camp outweighed my needs. I knew I had an incredible staff, and the parents and children who come to my program are incredible! I knew together, we could make camp happen.

I had to cancel the first week of camp because I could not run a day camp before July. This money was refunded. I turned my full-week sleep-away camp into an Extreme Day Camp. Most campers switched into this week. I refunded the difference in fees for this camp. I had already lost over one hundred thousand dollars. This was stressful, but I was grateful the day camps would run. The full-body rash (which itched the crazy) reacted to the stress camp. 


When I began planning for camp, I took a part-time job at GoodnessME. I needed to get out of the house. I could learn about healthy eating and wanted to serve my community. Working at GoodnessME was a humbling experience. The job involved a lot of lifting and physical labour. This was a new experience for me. I was in tears by the end of the second day. I didn’t think I could continue; however, I am terrible at quitting, so I pushed on. I learned how hard people work for minimum wage. It helped me realize how fortunate I have been with my career. As weeks passed, I began to get used to the new routines. There were many times I felt dumb. There were so many little things to learn that sometimes became overwhelming. I committed to GoodnessME until September. I worked at GoodnessME and my day camp. Sometimes, it was exhausting; however, I had to push forward.


I had been working at GoodnessME for a month when I received a call from a friend who asked if I would be interested in being interviewed. Her friend wrote an article about entrepreneurs working in a grocery store during the pandemic. I agree to be interviewed. About five minutes after I hung up the phone with my friend, I received a call from Dianne Buckner, who worked for CBC. She asked me about Kids 4 Kids and what it was like to work in a grocery store. I didn’t think much about being interviewed.

“Who would read the article anyway.”

I also just realized that Dianne Buckner hosted The Dragon’s Den.

The article was published on the CBC website. I received a call from a friend in Texas and from friends around Toronto who read the article. Who knew? I also received a message from an individual on LinkedIn who thought I should not have taken the job and allowed someone who needed the position to have it. When I walked into GoodnessME the day after the article was published, my boss said, “Nice article.” Great! Was this going to be another thing to add to my stress and anxiety? 


I had all the protocols in place, and the camp was ready. I had yet to learn how anxious parents would be or if the children could follow the new protocols. It’s one thing setting up a process. It’s another thing to follow it. I cancelled the bus service for the first week because too many parents were cancelling this option. I was about to have one hundred families drive down a one-lane driveway. I had yet to learn how things would go. Getting families into camp and their children into their cohorts went surprisingly well. When campers arrived, they chose a leader and waited at the picnic table until they had nine campers. They were then off to their campsite. The first week of camp was sweltering. If heat could kill a virus, it would have died on Monday. It was stinking hot!

Campers were washing their hands and staying in their cohorts. Social distancing was not an exact science, but we were doing our best. My anxiety levels experienced peaks and valleys. Realizing breaching the mandated government policy could deliver a fine of $850 per camp didn’t help my anxiety levels. I chose to focus on the importance of helping children with their mental health. This had to outweigh any potential negative concerns.


On the third week of camp, two of my staff members were on their way to the parking lot to deliver a child to their parents, picking them up for a doctor’s appointment. When they got to the parking lot, a car pulled in. It wasn’t the child’s parents but the grandparents of one of my staff members, who is also my goddaughter. They arrived in a panic to tell her that her father had collapsed and she was to come with them. Then the phone rang. It was my goddaughter’s mother telling her her father was gone. Of course, my staff member collapsed from grief. I was halfway back to Brantford when my camp director told me the news. Not only was this my staff member’s dad, but a friend of thirty years. This was just one more event that would add to my stress and anxiety. I encouraged my goddaughter to take the week off, but she was back the next day because of her dedication to the campers. Her commitment reflects the quality of my staff serving the children. She pushed through the summer and was incredible with the campers. Camp was a good distraction for her.


We had eight weeks of summer day camp, dividing the kids into two camps, cohorts of ten, washing hands and sanitizing everything. There were few masks, over one thousand children and no cases of COVID. The children that came to camp had an incredible experience and are better for it. When they get to school, they will be mentally strong and resilient and have the tenacity to help them face the day.

We decked out the rain, except for one day when it rained and hailed. Camp Sidrabene allowed us to use many of their buildings, so we were able to spread the kids out. We had a box of Camp Kahuna buffs that could be used as masks. We were prepared for whatever came. I told the kids it is important to push forward and yell, “BRING IT ON!” when adversity strikes. We chanted this phrase a lot, or at least I did.

We need to be careful with how much negativity we feed our brains daily. The news is filled with mixed messages. The internet is plagued with false information. The commercials that connect our television shows are injected with adjectives that promote fear and negativity. Even the music used is melancholy and sad. Mental health is as important as our physical health. Children need to play and be with each other. They need to see each other’s faces to learn how to read the reactions of others. Let’s teach children about personal hygiene and personal space but keep realistic health measures in place. Let’s not forget that mental and physical health are brothers who need to grow together.

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