Over the past three months, we have watched tragedies unfold across the world and experienced a tightening-in of our own lives, which sometimes feels like our houses become their own islands amidst a vast, troubled sea. Throughout it all, we have been reassured in the knowledge that we can get through these tough times, both personally and as a business, by doing what’s right, standing together with our customers, friends, and family, and by being responsible to ourselves and our community.
Sometimes, the right choice is the hardest thing to do. A little bit before Spring Break, what now seems like ages ago, Dan and I were watching the corona virus spread across the world and reading the news that this likely would be a deadly pandemic. We braced ourselves for the personal and professional impact on our lives and that of the community. We braced our employees Bri and Luke, whom we had proudly hired just a month previous to help with our fledgling business finally taking flight, that there likely would be no work soon. It was one of the worst feelings I’ve ever had-letting down people that depend on me for income, people I enjoyed working with and trusted to share the experience of helping grow our dream into a successful business… and feeling utterly helpless to control any of it. At that time, with all the uncertainty and unknowns, trying to make a plan, or a single decision, almost felt like divining meaning from tea leaves. In one thing we were certain, and completely steadfast: social responsibility and the health of our community is our number one priority. This is the exact reason why we started Into the Woods Alaska – get kids outdoors and teach them why nature is paramount in their lives and that of a healthy community.
Operating without due regard to this crisis would be antithetical to who we are.
Once we made the choice to shutter our business until further notice, we knew it was the right thing to do. The biggest culprit preying on everyone right now is uncertainty; making a firm decision gave us time to figure out our next steps at more thoughtful pace. How can anyone make plans if they don’t know what is going to happen in a few months? This is the million-dollar question. We knew we had to change things up and adapt if we were to survive this.
We went back to the drawing board and, for the third time in a year (I chalk it up to growing pains and learning the ropes of running a small business), we moved our website to what is hopefully its forever home. We knew that we would have to now reach our customers digitally, and we needed a platform that was fast, responsive, and had the ability to disseminate digital content easily. WordPress did it for us, and we got a tutoring software that will allow us to create classes for download so that parents, working from home and homeschooling, can download materials and/or content to teach their children the cool things we do in our summer camps. We do not believe in hoarding information, and this platform almost seemed too good to be true-we can now plug in all of the activities and science topics content into the digital classroom for our families to enjoy outside of our outdoor studies programs. One of the goals of getting kids outdoors is after they’ve spend time in one our programs, they will then get their families out to explore then same, or new places, thus spreading the use and appreciation of our natural spaces. Disseminating our content online felt like a continuation of that philosophy – maybe we can’t run our programs right now, but we can share with families all the things we do so that families can do it together outdoors. The best way to social distance.
The beautiful Crow Creek to Crow Pass Trail. It makes an excellent day hike to Raven Glacier.
After spending weeks dialing in our strategy, digital platform, and creating a myriad of tentative plans based on an A, B, or C scenario, the next step was figuring out the “if…” and “how” to run our summer programs. The most obvious course of action was dialing down the majority of our offerings; recent guidelines from the state of Alaska state that summer camps should include groups of 10 or less and be 100% outdoors. This is a boon for us as our groups are always 10 or less…and our entire program is run outdoors. The next obvious step was to cut all of our program groups except one per location. Only one group of ten at Kincaid and only one group of ten at Glen Alps.
Summer camp programs will be offered starting June 1, 2020.
- We will run 11 weeks of summer program session from June 1 to August 14. Sessions are Monday – Friday, 8am to 6pm. (Drop off will be from 8-9, pick up from 4:30-6).
- We will run our programs at two locations, and groups at each location are limited to 10 or less (including the guide).
Kincaid Park for ages 5-12 – The Summer Explorers Club
- drop-off: 8-9 at the Raspberry Parking Area
- pick-up: 4:30-6 near the main chalet
Glen Alps for ages 10-16 – The Anchorage Youth Hiking Club
- drop-off: 8-9 at the Glen Alps parking area
- pick-up: 5:30-6 at the Glen Alps parking area
We can offer a multitude of groups and age-based programming once we have a healthy community and the pandemic is in our rear view…but for now, the only responsible thing to do is to limit our offerings to one. Just like the mountains we adore will always be there for us to enjoy, as they have been for eons before us, we hope our program will be around for decades to come. The only thing that threatens that future right now is if we were to put business over community.
The next course of action was to figure out how to make it easy for parents. Like us, parents now have to home school while working at home, a very challenging feat to be sure. We are all feeling the stress from a crashing economy, job loss, a health crisis, being cut off from our loved ones, the uncertainty of the future…and kids pick up on it, though they may have difficulty expressing it.
To help, at least in a small way to alleviate stress, we’ve focused in on reducing paperwork, the filling out of forms, and streamlining our registration process. We’ve made some changes to our registration process – from now on, parents will fill out their family intake form one time, and one time only. These forms will need to be updated over the years as there are changes in demographic information, such as addresses, phone numbers, or children’s ages, but the entire form is a one-time process. The liability and policy waiver also is now an annual event – fill it out and sign it once for the year – it is good for all programs and all children attending any ITWAK program.
Finally, the big kahuna – the registration process. Now, parents can select one, or all of the programs AND the quantity (the number of children attending) in just the one checkout experience. Due to the uncertainty of the next few months and the very real possibility we will have to cancel our programming, we also didn’t want to accept payment until we knew for sure our programs are a “go”. This is the part I am most happy with – as a parent who has enrolled her children in other summer camps – we are not accepting payment until we are sure camps are running. Parents select their dates, sign up and register, reserving their spot without financial commitment. We will then run payment within a week before selected camp sessions begin.
Additionally, guidelines published to us by the State of Alaska recommend that we have a “static” group of kids. We understand parents may only want one or two weeks over the summer, but for parents that need childcare all summer, we have created a series of packages that will help parents with siblings save money and stay with us for as long as they need.
This is the whole summer package – obviously, we would love to spend it with children playing in the woods and learning new outdoor safety skills. However, if this is not to be, our family will fully embrace the whole summer package; peacefully living in the moment and embracing every single molecule of summer and family time until we can responsibly re-open our business. We owe it to ourselves and to our Into the Woods community to what’s right. We are prepared for whatever A, B, or C plan comes our way, whether we are operating under new COVID-19 safety guidelines or closed for everyone’s safety.
Whatever comes our way, we are buying in to the whole summer package; whatever comes our way, we will abide.
We wish you the very best of healthy and safety during these troubled times. With warm regards and the hopes to meet you in the woods,
Kristina & Dan
reserve a summer program