Saturday, August 23, 2014

Save the Animals but Break Children's Hearts? Apparently So.

Marissa visits with a guinea pig at Unleashed.
Back to the reason for Camp Kristi.

For several years, many of Lindsey's friends' parents and I have gotten together to plan our girls' collective summers. It would be easier and cheaper to put them in Minneapolis KIDS for the season. Instead, we chose to organize carpools, change work schedules and do what I've termed the "summer schlep" to create rich and rewarding activities for our four musketeers.

We do this planning in February, as many camps fill up within the first week they become available. We go through numerous websites with some easy and some difficult forms, pay for everything in advance on credit cards and then each week of the summer work out details of carpooling and after-camp drop-offs. This gets coordinated between two girls because Marissa doesn't always want to do the camps Lindsey does, and also has her own friends that she does activities with as well.  Many weeks we are dropping one kid off somewhere and the other somewhere else, then picking them back up at different locations than the places they were dropped off at. It's a lot of details to keep track of; I practically need a minute-by-minute scheduler for the mornings and afternoons. Oy.

Last year Lindsey and friends had participated in a camp hosted by the Animal Humane Society called Unleashed, and Lindsey absolutely loved it. They spent the week learning about different animals and visiting all the pets waiting to be rescued.  She talked about it so much her little sister wanted to take part in it this summer, too. Great. Let's make that week easy and register both of them at the same time, then work out carpools between the families.

This is one of the camps that fills up in a matter of days, so the minute the summer programs were available in February I completed a registration for both of them.  I felt like I was in a race to get concert tickets for a popular artist. Yet another website, another confusing registration form to figure out, and then afterwards, instead of getting an email confirming their registration information, I got an email that said the information was available on the website and gave me the link to log on to retrieve it.

As if a month later I could remember the username and password to one of a multitude of websites that I had filled out. I always said I'd check it later but didn't until the Friday before the camp, at which point I realized I had made a mistake.

In filling out the form, I had registered both Lindsey and Marissa for the camp for 3rd and 4th graders. Lindsey was supposed to be in the camp for 5th and 6th graders along with her friends. I was surprised the form even let me make the mistake. The form asked for the 2014-15 grade for the student, and I had entered "6" for Lindsey. So why would it let me register her for a camp for 3rd and 4th graders? I know that online forms can be programmed to limit selections users can make based on answers to questions, but this form was not built to do that. Even more surprising was that in the six months between when I filled out the form and when the camp was to take place, no one at AHS had caught my mistake either.

"Easily remedied," I thought, "I'll call the camp and let them know my mistake, they should be able to  add her to the roster for the 5th and 6th graders."

Silly me.

I was informed that she would not be able to take part in camp with the 5th and 6th graders, that not only was the camp full (I knew that; a fourth of the campers were Lindsey's friends), but there was a waiting list and this wasn't fair to those who were on the waiting list.

"Yes I understand," I said, "but I'm not asking you to add someone who suddenly decided today she wanted to go to this camp, I have already paid for the camp. I did so six months in advance, as a matter of fact. I am just asking you to put her with the appropriate age group so she can take part in the camp with her friends."

Sorry, I was informed. Not possible. The only way she could take part in the camp was by doing the curriculum with the 3rd and 4th graders. No exceptions. The good news, I was informed, was that she would be doing the camp with her sister.

I was pretty sure Lindsey wouldn't think that was "good news."

Oh and by the way, there are no refunds at this point in time, I was reminded.

Late Friday afternoon when Lindsey got home from the final day of that week's camp experience, I let her know of the error and of our only option, which was to take part in the camp with the 3rd and 4th graders. She resolutely refused to do so and said she wouldn't go to the camp.

At first I told her she didn't have any choice and had to go. I was all of two weeks into a new job and would be driving to Oakdale for training throughout the week. No one would be home and we had nothing else lined up.

After discussing with Wayne and Kristi, they both sided with Lindsey that it was a bit much to ask a middle schooler to take part in the camp with 3rd and 4th graders. They convinced me that the embarrassment factor was quite high, especially when she would be within eyesight of her friends who were in the other camp group.

We decided to take the risk that the camp counselors would be more accommodating and try to send her anyway. I had been talking to someone in the main office, who clearly has to follow the rules. The person I spoke to on the phone didn't state that safety or census requirements would be violated by accommodating this one child, only that it wasn't fair to others on the waiting list. Surely the counselors themselves would be more understanding.

Thankfully Kristi had much of the week off and was going to be dropping the girls off at camp on their first day anyway. If it didn't work out for Lindsey to take part in camp, she and Kristi would make plans for the week.

When Kristi arrived at the camp with the two girls in tow, the counselors had the groups line up by grade; 3rd and 4th graders on the left, 5th and 6th graders on the right. When they saw that Lindsey's name was with the 3rd and 4th graders, they said she would not be able to switch groups. Kristi explained the mistake; they understood the issue as they had been told about the phone call the prior Friday, but there was nothing they could do. Either camp with the 3rd and 4th graders, or don't camp.

"Then she is not taking part in this camp," Kristi said, and they walked away. A fellow parent who was dropping off Lindsey's friends saw them leaving and asked what was going on. He couldn't believe that an 11-year-old was being turned away from camp.

Kristi and Lindsey ended up having a lovely day, and ultimately an amazing week. After the first day of camp I received an email from the camp asking for feedback. They got it and I subsequently got my refund, minus the administrative fee, which is fine; I took up their time and energy to process her registration and deal with my ire. They also received letters from the parents of Lindsey's friends, who expressed their dissatisfaction with the "options" we'd been given, and expressed how not having Lindsey be a part of this camp affected their own children's camp experience.

Lindsey visiting the animals (and her friends) at AHS while picking up Marissa at the end of the day.
Here's my point on this: people make mistakes, and clearly I was at fault for registering for the camp incorrectly. No one caught the mistake for six months, despite my having identified her as a 6th grader on the form. When I realized the mistake myself, there were no creative solutions presented. No solutions at all, actually, considering that the impact of this mistake fell upon an 11-year-old.

I fully support the good work of the Animal Humane Society, but I do not choose to support them through their camp offerings. We will not be signing up for this camp next year.  I urge anyone who does so to make sure you register your kids correctly.

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