- Bethany (Marsh) Sullivan
Finding Creative Ways to Connect with Mechuwana Friends During COVID
This summer was supposed to be my first summer deaning Elementary/Middle School Music Theater Camp, along with Kwamena Blankson and my very good friend Beth Wallace. This is the camp where Beth and I met, 27 years ago, before I moved to her hometown. Beth and I have been close friends, pretty much ever since. We were roommates for several summers on staff, and last summer we co-deaned Mom/Child and You and Me Camps together. Beth, Kwamena, and I have all three volunteered at the Elementary/Middle School Music Theater Camp for many years, bringing our children, spouses, and our children’s friends along for the ride. Although Beth and I deaned together last summer, putting on a musical in a week brings things to a whole new level. The three of us were looking forward to the challenge with some trepidation, but also a lot of enthusiasm. We were well supported by the dean team that came before us, we had a great staff of old and new volunteers lined up, and we were all looking forward to working together.
Then came Covid-19.
Elementary/Middle School Music Theater camp is a family. The staff and campers have watched my children grow up. Some of the staff watched me grow up. I have watched our campers and volunteer children grow up. One summer I counseled a cabin with my two-year-old son. I worried the girls wouldn’t like sharing their cabin with a toddler, but they became like his big sisters for the week. Another summer I directed the show with a five-week-old baby strapped to my chest, while my husband played in the pit. Last year a camper helped usher my five- and seven-year-olds on and off the stage for chorus numbers. I myself remember as a camper playing with a baby who has grown up to be one of our adult volunteers!
Many of the volunteers have been involved with the camp for decades, including my dad, and Beth’s mom, and we have often had three generations of a family with us for the week.Our youth leaders are often campers who attended the camp until they aged out, as were some of our adult volunteers. The dean team we are replacing were there when Beth and I were campers. It is a community many of us return to year after year. And every year we invite new campers, and often new volunteers, to join our camp family. Some stay for a week, some a few years, some go away for awhile and return. Some reappear after many years to drop their kids off with us for the week. Sometimes former volunteers can only join us for the show on Friday, and maybe for the dance party afterwards. Whoever they are, and however much time they spend with us, we hope that they feel a part of the love we have for them, for each other, and for the very special place that has brought us together. It is a Mechuwana story that I’m sure many other camps are familiar with.
As a music theater camp, music is at the heart of our community. Yes we put on a musical. But we also break out the instruments and sing for morning watch and evening devotions. A group of staff take guitars and sing to the cabins at lights out. Staff and campers gather to make music together during breaks. As a camper I remember the sound of music drifting from the Lodge or from the fire circle after lights out. As a volunteer, singing together late into the night has been one of my favorite parts of the week. It was making music together that I would miss most of all.
So when Beth suggested that we have a Zoom concert to start the summer, I jumped on board, and quickly so did other volunteers. We invited current and past volunteers, every camper who attended last summer and those who had registered for this summer. Participants were encouraged to perform something — a song, a skit, a poem — or just come along to watch and be together. On the Monday night after what would have been our week of camp, a youth leader, 7 campers (mostly staff kids) and 10 adult volunteers met on Zoom. We took turns sharing favorite songs. A set of siblings shared an amazing lip sync to Disney's Gaston. Two volunteers’ kids played instruments for us, and we shared the fellowship of making music together. It was not the same as gathering in the Lodge with our instruments and our voices, but it was full of love, and although we were apart, we were together. We closed, of course, with the Mechuwana Song. At the end of the evening my son begged me to tell everyone we needed to do it again. It was bittersweet. It did remind me of what I was missing. But I was so grateful to be with each and every one of those people, and grateful for everything they have brought into my life, summer after summer.
I hope that you, too, will find ways to get together with your Mechuwana family this summer. If you are a volunteer, reach out to your dean. If you are a dean, reach out to Norm. Feel free to reach out to Beth Wallace and me if you’d like to hear more about our experience. If you happen to like to sing, act, dance, play an instrument, sew costumes, paint sets, or just hang around with people who do, maybe next summer, you’d like to join our Mechuwana family. We would be so glad to have you!
—Bethany (Marsh) Sullivan