By Suzanne Ocsai
When the COVID-19 virus forced the world to go into lockdown in early spring, many events were canceled immediately, including the Southeastern California Conference’s Adventurer camporee. However, what everyone assumed would just be another canceled event in a long string of disappointments became an unexpected blessing to families across the country.
Meshach Soli, pastor of the South Bay church in San Diego, and his wife, Linda, the church’s Adventurer leader, decided to plan a virtual campout with their club for the same weekend that the original camporee had been scheduled, May 1-3.
Meshach Soli asked Aren Rennacker, conference youth director, and Patty Marruffo and Manny Vitug, both associate youth directors, if they would be willing to record short messages to be played during the weekend. They agreed before coming back with another idea. Would he be willing to open his club’s virtual campout to other clubs?
With the support and help of conference leaders, staff from Pine Springs Ranch summer camp, and Meshach and Mayllyn Mauia from Mississippi, the camporee grew to include clubs from across the country. On the first night, there were more than 85 homes on the Zoom broadcast.
Meshach Soli soon realized that the virtual camporee did not simply provide a substitute for a missed event but filled a need that was present, yet largely unknown, before COVID-19.
“What the pandemic taught us,” he said, “is that there are people who either prefer to do things online or they’re limited perhaps by a health condition that do not allow them to be present.”
For Adventurer Vincente “Vinny” Rubino, age 10, the camporee’s virtual broadcast allowed him and his family to participate. Vinny has congenital heart disease and is unable to be at altitudes above 4,500 feet. This has prevented him from participating in events even before the pandemic.
When his mom, Bethany Rubino, heard about the online camporee, she signed her family up. Not only was it a meaningful experience for Vinny and his siblings in the midst of quarantine, it was an event the whole family was able to participate in without complications.
“This is a huge equalizer,” she said. “It made me think about how virtual camporees could be offered once or twice a year for those families with kids who are medically fragile. I think that might be a need we’ve never thought about addressing. And this was such a great opportunity for us.”