A Successful Summer – 2020 & COVID-19

In March of 2020, COVID-19 led to a complete shut down in the state of Michigan. Our Governor (Gretchen Whitmer, Camp Newaygo Alumni) ordered a stay at home order that lasted through June 1st. A task force was assembled to find a way to safely open summer camps in Michigan. Jane Vitek was able to serve on that committee, which gave the order to open overnight camps on June 26th.

Camp Newaygo never wavered in our pursuit to safely accomplish camp program. Nearly every summer camp in Michigan closed, or offered either virtual programs or limited day camps. 

Programmatic sacrifices had to be made. There was no Day Camp, no alumni, no weekly volunteers, no wilderness trips, and no weekend adventures off camp. But what we lost to mitigate risk was balanced by what we gained in taking on the challenge of running summer.

We had RIG time, with cabin choice sign ups that included Dungeons and Dragons with Peter, ballroom dancing with Alex and Emma, and gypsy witch cards with Charley. Emma’s adventures sent campers on the trolley, to a mud pit, and through a spy maze. Cabins and units bonded closer together, with so many new activities to sample. We spent more time outside than ever before, with nearly perfect (but hot) weather all summer.

Driving out of the gate of camp in August, many campers did not know what their future would hold. Schools toggle between in-person and virtual learning, and rising cases warn of future state lockdowns.

Camp Newaygo has remained a constant for our campers and staff – one star dependable and bright for wishing on. Spending seven weeks surrounded by woods, water, and laughter is a reminder of all that is good about the human experience.

In a time of so much uncertainty, it was reassuring to wave goodbye to campers and staff with the ever-constant farewell of: “See ya next summer.”

  • Required every camper and staff to complete a negative COVID-19 test prior to arrival at camp
  • Required all seasonal staff to stay on camp for the entire duration of summer (7 weeks)
  • Year-round staff were limited in interactions outside of the “camp bubble”
  • Facility staff (Shelby!) went above-and-beyond to make sure camp had adequate cleaning and sanitization supplies EVERYWHERE
  • Check-in and Check-out became contactless, with families staying inside their car for the process
  • Counselors stayed in their assigned co-pairing for the summer, whenever possible
  • Cabin and unit groups stayed together for all activities, with a new schedule we called “the grid”
  • Campers and staff had their temperatures checked twice daily
  • Two summer-long volunteers (Jelanie and Bridget) completed all store runs and grub hub dinners for staff
  • No off-site trips were able to be done, under restrictions from the state of Michigan. Unit campers completed overnight wilderness trips on camp property, in individual tents.
  • Spread out all programming, with marked squares on the tennis courts, dock seating for ceremonies, and LOTS of rotation-station evening programs.
  • Counselors sanitized bathrooms between every use
It seemed like an insurmountable challenge to run camp the summer of 2020. But we were determined to do whatever needed to be done to give the campers an amazing experience. We are excited to plan summer 2021, with the strength & knowledge we gained in summer 2020.


– Jalisa Danhof, Camp Director
Jalisa spent her childhood (ages 7-16) as camper at a 4-H camp in Florida then held various counselor positions, and spent a decade here as the Program Director at Camp Newaygo. She has a degree in Camp Administration from Florida State University. Jalisa lives at Camp Newaygo year-round with her husband Michael and son Calvin. In addition to staffing, enrollment, program planning, outreach, and camp management duties, she is the national chair of the American Camp Association Emerging Professionals in Camping, and the the Professional Development Chair for the Michigan Local Council of Camping Leaders.