After missing out on the quintessential summer experience last year, campers were excited to return to Carol Joy Holling Camp starting this month.
While camp is back, about 1,000 campers will venture to Carol Joy Holling near Ashland this year instead of the usual 1,600, Nebraska Lutheran Outdoor Ministries executive director Jason Gerdes said.
The main limiting factor this year was a shortage of camp counselors, Gerdes said, an example of the workforce shortage affecting employers across many industries. While the camp usually takes on 60 to 65 camp counselors each year, this year it was only able to hire about 35.
Carol Joy Holling Camp offers mostly one-week sleep-away camps for first through 12th graders. Carol Joy Holling also has day-camp options and other programs for families and people with special needs.
The camp usually runs five different programs at a time broken down into age groups, but this year had to consolidate all elementary school-aged kids into one group and all middle school-aged kids into another.
While the camp worked to have as many campers attend as possible, some late registrants were turned away.
“It was really hard for the families because their kids were really looking forward to camp, really needed it,” Gerdes said. “We just couldn’t get the number of staff we needed to be able to run.”
Another difference from a normal year is the continued presence of some COVID-19 related precautions. Gerdes said the camp is following all CDC and American Camp Association guidelines.
While the camp is working to allow campers to be unmasked as much as possible, he said there are certain situations where campers wear masks and are more limited to specific groups.
In 2020, there was no traditional camp, but Gerdes said the camp did its best to offer other opportunities by opening up the facilities for people to hike and also running camps where families could come out and stay by themselves and take part in self-guided programming.
The off-year also provided time for a major project at the campsite. While the camp was empty, construction of the new Hazel Dillon Lodge, a 10,000-foot, $3.5 million project, was completed.
The lodge was donated by Sid Dillon, who named it for his wife Hazel Dillon, a Fremont philanthropist who died in 2018. The lodge is used for programming for the camp’s first through sixth graders, Gerdes said. The lodge will also be used for events and retreats.
“It’s a great addition to our property,” he said.
Despite some continued restrictions and obstacles, Gerdes said everyone is excited to be back at camp.
“After going through the last year that they had, we really think it’s important to have programs help them get away from the phone, and come out and be in a community of other kids from other places,” he said.
Camp counselor Emily Dresbach, a 21-year-old from Lincoln, said she missed having the camp community together last year. She said she’s had campers come up to her who remembered her from camp in 2019.
“It’s really nice to be able to have everyone come together and pick up where we left off,” she said.
Camp counselor Nate Grimm, a 21-year-old from Fremont, said he enjoys the feeling of getting away that comes with camp and watching kids get out of their comfort zone. He’s glad that experience is once again available to campers.
“It just feels right; it feels like things are back to where they should be,” he said. “Having kids out here, it’s just been a burst of energy for the area, for the staff — it’s just really comforting to know that we’re back at camp and we’re back in action.”
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