Our fifteenth annual Words with Wings summer camp was not what I imagined when I began planning it in February 2020. At that time, there were no concerns about quarantining, social distancing, and sanitizing. Contact-less thermometers and face masks were not on the shopping list. My main concern in February was how to accommodate the growing number of students who attend our camp. By June, my main concern had become learning how to safely run a small camp during a pandemic. As this year’s camp came and went, I realized that what we were able to offer this year was exactly what students needed : a chance to connect with their peers, and an opportunity for students to share a part of their interior lives that had been bottled up in isolation over the last four months.
Students repeatedly shared with me how much they enjoyed spending time with other kids, parents shared how they appreciated creating a safe space for their kids to express themselves, and our writing instructors were impressed both at the students’ zeal in taking to the prompts and their willingness to share their words with others. Poems emerged about the isolation of hiding behind masks and about dreams that can take you anywhere if you believe in them. Alongside these weighty poems were also limericks about ice cream cones and recipes about how to make a Ford 8-N Tractor.
Though the size of our camp was small, and we wore face masks inside and out, our students still loved writing all morning and then getting out around the U.M. campus and into the larger community in the afternoon. A big thank you goes out to all of our partners: Montana Museum of Art and Culture, Turning the Wheel Missoula,The Historical Museum at Fort Missoula. Watershed Education Network, Montana State Arboretum, and Montana Public Radio were all essential partners who inspired our students’ writing. Good Food Store, Northwestern Energy, and JoDean Nicolette provided scholarships for our camp. Finally, our Words with Wings and Rattlesnake Writing Workshop teachers Dana Fitz Gale, Susanna Sonnenberg, Caroline Patterson, and Nicole Gomez and wonderful interns Audrey Petit, Julia Johnson and Brittany Wallace all modeled their own passion for writing and inspired the students with their teaching.
I also appreciate the support and guidance of other arts organizations in Missoula, especially the ZACC, who helped to chart a path forward to safely run this summer camp.
I am already looking forward to next year when we’ll return for our sixteenth year and once again share stories and forge connections with one another.