Cancellation of Summer Programs due to COVID-19 pandemic   Read More >>

2020 Cancellation of Summer Programs

It’s with great sadness that we announce that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all Four Winds summer 2020 programs will be canceled. For our Board of Trustees and year-round staff, this is the hardest decision about Camp we’ve ever had to make. It’s heartbreaking to know that for the first time since 1927, campers and staff won’t be coming together here on Orcas Island to create the magic of  Four Winds this summer.

And, despite the sadness and difficulty of the decision, we know it is the right one. Our first priority will always be the safety and health of our campers and staff.

Guidance from Washington State, the San Juan County Department of Health and Community Services, as well as other public health experts makes it clear that a Four Winds summer is not compatible with the best advice for safety in this pandemic.

There’s more information about our rationale in our FAQ below, but the simplest way to put it is that Camp is the opposite of social distancing. We hug, we high five, we gather shoulder to shoulder in the Lodge, we put our arms around each other and sing. Even if it were possible to have Camp while maintaining social distancing, and we’re not sure that it is, it wouldn’t be a Four Winds summer.

Many of you will have questions, and we’ve tried to answer the questions that specific groups will have in the letters below, as well as the FAQ below that. Please feel free to call or email our year-round team with your questions, but please do read the information here first. When you do call or email, please understand if there is a delay in our response, as this is a decision of consequence, and questions will be many.

Finally, we want to end with the most important things. Four Winds will survive this. We will open for summer 2021 stronger than ever. We love you all. Thank you for being a part of this wonderful community. Take care and we wish you all good health in the times to come.


A letter to campers

Dear Campers,

We’re so sorry that we can’t have camp this summer. After all you have experienced the last couple of months, there is nothing we want more than to welcome you to camp for a summer of friendship, tradition, belonging, and fun. The fact that it can’t happen is sad, unfair, and has never happened before in Four Winds’ history.

Your generation is being asked to make a tremendous sacrifice. Nothing in our lifetimes compares to it. You’re missing out on friendship, school, activities, sports, milestone moments, and now camp. It takes our breath away.

Most of you have been to camp before, and you know how a summer at Four Winds is filled with hugs, high fives, we sing with our arms around each other, we gather together in the Lodge, shoulder to shoulder. It’s pretty much the opposite of social distancing. If 2020 was supposed to be your first summer, we are so sorry that you won’t be experiencing Four Winds this year. We can’t wait for you to find out what it’s all about in 2021. It’s amazing!

The thing is, as we’re sure you know, young people seem to tolerate this virus pretty well. Compared to older people or people with underlying health conditions, you’re not at as much risk. We’re certainly thankful that you’re not at as much risk, but it makes the sacrifice you’re making all the more poignant. You’re missing out on camp (along with all the other things you’ve missed out on this spring and summer) in order to protect others. We hope you’ll find comfort in knowing how proud we are of you, and how proud you should be of yourself.

As for us, we’re looking forward to summer 2021. We can’t wait to welcome you to Camp at Gatehouse Circle or Greenie Hill, have you meet your counselors and cabinmates, and do a Four Winds summer for the ages. We’ll get through this. We love you all, hope you’re safe and healthy, and can’t wait to see you soon.

Take Care,

Paul & Danielle

A letter to parents and guardians of enrolled campers, CTs, and Helping Hands

Dear Parents and Guardians,

I hope you and your families are safe and well in this difficult time. Given the size of this group and the extent of this disaster, I’m sure that some of you have had financial stress or health stress in your families. My heart goes out to you.

Let me express my deep sorrow that we can’t provide a camp experience for your children this summer. We’ve been working all spring to try to find a way to provide some kind of camp experience, even if it was modified. While the picture still isn’t 100% clear through the end of the summer, it’s clear enough to know that we won’t be able to operate camp safely. While camp is never risk-free, safety is, was, and always will be our first priority, and that priority leads us to this decision.

I’m sorry that we have to add one more disappointment to the many your children have experienced this spring. I’m sure that for many of them, this one hits especially hard. I’ve heard from many of you over the course of the last few weeks that Camp has been something to look forward to amidst all the darkness. I wish we could be that light at the end of the tunnel for 2020.

If you’ll allow me to give a little parenting advice, I’d advocate two approaches, depending on your child’s personality and how they’re feeling. I think for most children, both approaches will be useful at different times. The first approach is to let them grieve. For many of our campers, this will be a deeply felt loss, and while of course it’s not the same as losing a loved one, many of them will experience very strong feelings of grief. Give them space and understanding, and help them process when it feels right. The second approach is to congratulate them. Danielle and I wrote in our letter to campers above that we are proud of them because of the sacrifice they’re making to protect more vulnerable people. That pride is genuine. It’s been a long time since an American generation has been asked to make a collective sacrifice like this one. I believe that sacrificing for others makes you a better person, and a bright side of this pandemic may well be the good that this generation does for the world. If you feel similarly, don’t be afraid to express that pride to your kids. This is being thrust on them, but they are still making this sacrifice well. 

Lastly, we are offering full refunds to all enrolled families, and asking those families who are willing and able to consider making a donation of all or part of the tuition already paid. If you’d like more information about why we’re asking you to consider a donation, please see the letter below titled “The future of Four Winds and how you can help” from our Board Chair, Diana Wiegel. Please login to your parent account, click on Forms, and fill out the only form you’ll find there, called “Refund/Donation Preference.” If you need some time to give it some thought, that’s totally fine. If we don’t hear from you by May 20, we’ll reach out to check in.

We look forward to welcoming your children to camp for summer 2021. Camp will be all the sweeter for the absence. 

All the best,


A letter to parents and guardians of campers on our waitlist

Dear Parents and Guardians,

Even in the best of times, our waitlist is a frustrating and disorienting thing. You know that you want your child to attend Four Winds, you fill out the form and make your deposit, and then a timer begins, except you don’t know how much time remains. Whenever I meet parents on our waitlist, I’m grateful for their patience. I’m honored by the hassle they’re willing to endure in order for their children to attend Four Winds. I’m also deeply uncomfortable that such a hassle is necessary. Thank you.

This cancellation must throw further disorientation into the works, and for that I apologize.

From a purely practical perspective, the cancellation does not change the situation very much for anyone on our waitlist. At this stage of the spring, as Mariah may have told you, it is unlikely that our waitlist would move much, if at all, even in a normal year. In that normal year, we would be encouraging you to begin thinking of alternative plans for summer 2020 if you had not already, and shift hopes for Four Winds to summer 2021. That advice is the same, even given our cancellation and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our policy with respect to waitlisted families is the same as normal. You have a deposit on file with us, and if you wish to withdraw from the waitlist at any time, simply let us know in writing (emailing Mariah is fine), and we will refund your deposit in full.

If you wish to remain on our waitlist for summer 2021, holding your place in line, you don’t have to do anything. At some point in the late summer or early fall, Mariah will contact you and ask to fill out a summer 2021 camper application, as that is required for our systems, but you don’t have to do anything now. It should be said, if the Global Financial Crisis was any guide, we are not immune to economic shocks. If the recession that seems likely to follow this pandemic is bad, our waitlist may move much more quickly, and your chances for 2021 could be much better than they would have been. Silver linings, I suppose.

Thank you for your patience. I hope our handling of this extraordinary situation gives you confidence in the kind of camp we are. I look forward to welcoming your children to Four Winds in a future summer.

All the best,


A letter to our summer staff

Dear Staff,

There are so many bits of sadness in this announcement. For the two of us, one of the biggest is not being able to work with you this summer. Every summer, one of our favorite parts of our jobs is connecting with you, our staff. We love building our team during staff week, working with our staff throughout the summer to give our campers the summer of their lives, going through the hardy but joyful work of Camp together, and culminating the journey in our staff banquet, staff Evening Fire, and Key Logs.

We wrote “every summer,” above, and that’s true, but it’s not just that. We were looking forward to working with you as individuals. We’ve built a great team for this summer. It’s heartbreaking to say we won’t be coming together at Camp in June.

A wonderful byproduct of the process described above is that you as staff grow, learn things about yourselves, and start to work out what kinds of adults you want to be. We love that for you, and we love being a part of it. That growth won’t happen as it should this summer, but we hope for you that it does happen. This experience is something you will tell your children about. Be kind and forgiving to yourself while using this time to develop and grow.

A few things to know: Your 2020 job offer is good for 2021. Our fondest hope for 2021 is that all of you will be on staff. We know that it’s not likely we’ll get 100% of you, but that will be our first pass at staffing 2021. In the fall, we’ll get in touch, and if you want to accept the same position you accepted for 2020, we’ll get that sorted out very quickly. In terms of specific position questions, 2020’s AC’s will be offered counselor jobs. If you are interested in applying for a different position or become eligible to apply for a new position by turning 21, we’ll set up a system to take those requests. They will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and more information about the process will come in time. The bottom line is, if you’re flexible at all, we’ll definitely have a spot for you.

We will be organizing a summer staff Zoom call in the coming days, stay tuned for scheduling information coming via email and in the Facebook group.

Again, we’re so sorry. We hope to see you all soon, on Orcas or out in the world.

We love you,

Paul & Danielle

A letter to alumni and our broader community

To everyone who cares about Four Winds,

Even if you, your children, or your grandchildren aren’t attending Camp this summer, I’m sure you’re heartbroken to see that we’re not able to have our regular Camp programs this summer. I know, having spoken with so many of you over the years, what comfort you take in knowing that every summer, campers and staff are carrying on our traditions, singing in the Lodge, sailing on Westsound, and doing all the things that make a Four Winds summer magical.

One of the things I love about Four Winds is that anyone who comes here for even one session joins a community that spans decades and generations. The thing that knits that community together, that keeps it going, is that Camp happens here every summer. That there will be a pause in that this summer is devastating.

But, I want you all to know that Four Winds will survive. In my 15 years here, I’ve often marveled at the things that Four Winds has survived – The Great Depression, World War II, the social tumult of the 1960s. Having not lived through any of those events myself, they seemed the distant hardships of previous generations. Though this hardship is different, it is the hardship of this generation. Four Winds will survive it, just as it has previous hardships. We will open, stronger than ever, for summer 2021.

One way we’ve gotten through past hardships, and will get through this one, is the financial support of our community. If you are in a position to make a tax-deductible donation to Camp, this is a time when that donation is needed more than ever. The Chair of our Board of Trustees, Diana Wiegel, elaborates in the letter below. If you’re ready to make a donation, you can find methods for doing so, including donating online, at this page. If you’d like to discuss anything, feel free to call or email me. I suspect I may be inundated with messages regarding our closure, so please let me apologize in advance if there’s a delay in my response. 

Thank you for all your support of Four Winds. I hope to see you soon.

All the best,


The future of Four Winds and how you can help

Dear Friends of Four Winds,

I want to offer my own apologies for the fact that our camp program can’t happen this summer. This pandemic has been awful on so many levels, and I know the loss of the camp summer is a particularly devastating blow, on top of all the others. I know that it’s the right decision, but that doesn’t take the pain of it away.

Decades ago, as a young person, Four Winds helped me to discover the type of person I wanted to be. It was one of the most formative experiences of my life. About ten years ago, when the opportunity came to serve on the Board of Trustees, I jumped at it. I’ve often marveled since then, while all of us on the Board joined because of the good Four Winds can do for young people, we don’t spend much of our Board service talking about the magic of Camp. We talk about budgets, septic systems, facilities, insurance, and long term planning. 

But, that work is in service of the magic Four Winds can do for young people, and so it is very rewarding. I can tell you, I never imagined that we’d be figuring out how to navigate a pandemic and a resulting summer without Camp. But, just as Four Winds has weathered previous storms, we will weather this one. 

For those of you who are able, I’m asking you to consider making a contribution to Four Winds in response to this pandemic and closure.

We are offering full refunds to all enrolled families. On some level, parents have given Four Winds a short term loan in advance of providing a service, and Camp cannot provide that service, so refunds are in order. 

That said, because of the realities of running a summer camp, refunding tuition will put us in a precarious, though not fatal financial position. It is because of this we are hoping that those of you who are willing and able would consider making a tax-deductible donation. Parents of enrolled campers can leave all, or part, of your 2020 tuition with us as a donation. Anyone can make a donation by emailing our Development Director Mike Smith, or by visiting this page

To explain the need for donations in more detail, the reality of delivering a great summer experience is that it requires extensive year-round planning and corresponding spending. A significant percentage of our year-round costs have nothing to do with camp actually opening for the summer. Refunding all of the camp tuition we’ve collected will represent losing about 85% of our annual operating revenue, but we will only be able to cut back annual operating costs by about 35%.

We do not have all the cash on hand to cover that shortfall. We will fund the shortfall by tapping into a combination of a line of credit secured against the camp property and our Board Designated Fund (an emergency fund of sorts, built up over the decades, invested alongside our endowment to fund our Financial Aid Program, and never tapped until now). If you’d like more details about the financial situation, please contact Paul. 

Our unmortgaged property and emergency fund have been a source of financial strength and stability for Four Winds for decades. We will likely need to rebuild that strength over the course of the next few years. You can help now by making a donation.

Regardless of whether you can make a donation, thank you for your connection to Four Winds. We will get through this. The Four Winds summer of 2021 will be the best one yet.

Yours in Camp,

Diana Wiegel
Chair, Board of Trustees

FAQs on the Closure


Why are you asking for donations?

The short answer is that, because running a great summer camp requires year-round spending, the amount of money we will need to refund will greatly exceed the amount of expenses we are able to cut by not running the summer. This will create a financial burden for Four Winds to resolve over the course of the next few years. For those families that are willing and able to donate, we greatly appreciate it, but of course, we understand that many may not. 

For more detailed information, see the letter above titled “The future of Four Winds and how you can help.”

If I leave all or part of my child’s tuition with you as a donation, will it be tax-deductible?

Yes, Four Winds is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and donations to it are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law. A refused refund can be classified as a donation for tax purposes.

Could you give us some more rationale for the decision?

There are many factors. The tipping point for us is that in Governor Inslee’s plan to reopen the state of Washington, Four Winds would not be allowed to operate normally until we reach Phase 4, and even then there might be restrictions that we may or may not be able to manage. Phase 4 is when gatherings of more than 50 people are allowed. Even our staff training is a gathering of more than 100 people, let alone our full summer operation, which is just under 300. This has been confirmed for us by the San Juan County Department of Health and Community Services.

Since Phase 1 will last until at least the end of May, and Phases 2 and 3 will be at least 3 weeks each, the earliest we could be in Phase 4 will be mid-July, and even that is reliant on the public health targets being met as quickly as possible. Any delay in that most optimistic scenario would put Phase 4 into August or the fall.

Beyond Governor Inslee’s reopening plan, there are other challenges. We need local, interstate, and ideally international travel to be allowed, available, and advisable. In addition to the above, our current understanding is that the response to a single case of COVID-19 at Camp would be that all campers and staff would have to immediately go home and self-quarantine for 14 days. Given the geographic spread of our community, this response is challenging or perhaps even impossible, so we could only proceed if we had confidence that we would not have a single case. There’s sadly no way to have that confidence at this time.

We’ve been wrestling with these factors all spring, hoping for some improvement in circumstances. Those factors still exist, and the additional information included in Governor Inslee’s phased reopening plan makes it clear that we can’t proceed with our regular programming for the summer of 2020.

Why not just cancel First Session? Could there be programs later in the summer?

At this time, we do not think it will be possible to offer late summer programming. We will continue to monitor the situation. If things improve and we are able to offer late summer programming, enrolled 2020 families will have the first chance to sign up for it.

How will you handle the returning camper guarantee and the waitlist in 2021?

Pretty much the same way that we normally do, except that first year 2020 enrolled campers will count as returning campers for the purposes of the guarantee, even though they won’t have actually attended in summer 2020. 

To review the process, returning campers are guaranteed enrollment as long as they sign up and make a deposit before November 30. We will open enrollment for summer 2021 in July 2020 as we normally do. Returning campers will have from the time of enrollment opening until November 30 to sign up to be guaranteed a spot for summer 2021. Once the guarantee expires, we will go to our waitlist and offer spots to those families until the waitlist is empty or camp is full. For the last 5 years or so, we have filled camp immediately on that day and not been able to clear the waitlist. There are so many unknowns at this time, and it’s certainly possible that camp will not fill immediately upon the expiration of the returning camper guarantee this fall. But, it very well might, as our backlog from the waitlist is long, so we encourage returning families to take advantage of the guarantee.

For a detailed description of how we handle our waitlist, please visit this page.

What does this mean for summer staff?

As we write in our letter to summer staff above, one of the great sadnesses of this cancellation is losing the opportunity to work with them and seeing the great work we would have done with the campers in summer 2020. They were shaping up to be a really fantastic team.

Our fondest hope is that all the hired summer staff for summer 2020 can come in summer 2021. In fact, we’ve already told them that all their job offers are good for next year. 

Please see the letter to summer staff above for more info.

What does this mean for campers who should have been second-year seniors in 2020, their final year as campers?

Our hearts are broken for these campers. We know what a milestone it is to be a second year senior camper at Four Winds. It isn’t terribly useful to rank people’s pain and heartache in reaction to this crisis and cancellation, but it has to be said that these campers are in an especially difficult situation.

Unfortunately, we can’t recreate the experience they should have had in 2020 in 2021 by allowing them to be senior campers in 2021. This is for two reasons. First, we need to make room for the younger campers to move through the program. Second, in our experience, once young people are halfway through high school, they have matured to the point where the camper experience is no longer productive. They need bigger challenges, which is why we have the CT and Helping Hands programs. We hope that any summer 2020 second year senior that has interest whatsoever in leadership applies for the CT or Helping Hand program in October 2020 for summer 2021. We will look at potential extraordinary accommodations so we can avoid saying no to any such camper who is willing to make the effort. 

There is a chance that we could offer something special to these campers in summer 2020, as long as we can get to Phase 3 of Governor Inslee’s plan. We will email the families of these campers to discuss this possibility. While it’s not perfect, we think it could be really good. Even if we can’t get to Phase 3, we will still figure out a way to honor this group.

What does this mean for campers who should have had their first summer as campers in 2020?

We feel awful for this group as well. To get emotionally ready for the big first step of going away to camp for the first time, only to have plans scuttled by a worldwide crisis, is a burden no young person should have to bear.

Unfortunately, the reality is that all of us are being asked to bear burdens we shouldn’t have to. For kids, that’s new and scary, but they are more adaptive than we sometimes give them credit for. 

We can’t wait for these campers to have their first year at Camp in summer 2021.

What does this mean for campers who received Financial Aid for summer 2020?

The Financial Aid Program, for all we talk about it, is still an undersung aspect of Four Winds * Westward Ho. Our commitment to Financial Aid remains as strong as ever.

Four Winds is facing a great deal of uncertainty at this time, but our plan is to give 2021 Financial Aid awards to all families who were granted awards in 2020. 

All Financial Aid at Four Winds is need-based, and so families will have to fill out a 2021 application with updated information. If a family’s financial situation improves markedly, they can expect the award to be reduced. If it deteriorates markedly, we will do what we can to increase the award.

This plan means that we will only be able to accept brand new financial aid applicants to the extent that our 2020 awardees pass on their 2021 offer In these unprecedented times, it seems right to honor old commitments before we take on new ones.

For those in a position to give in this difficult time, the Financial Aid Program is another reason to consider. Four Winds’ financial position is likely to be weakened by this pandemic and closure, and our ability to continue the Financial Aid Program is limited by finite financial resources. Our community has stepped up to support the Financial Aid Program for decades, and we are hopeful that will continue.

What does this mean for 2020 CTs and Helping Hands?

As we write these answers, we are continually saddened by the milestones that will be missed this summer, and the CTs and Helping Hands certainly fit into that category. These years of growth, leadership, service, and transition are so important, and missing them is a real loss.

But, in the long run, we think we can honor these young people’s commitment to leadership and growth, with a small break that will be part of this entire generations’ Four Winds experience.

The 2020 CTs and Helping Hands need to be split up into two groups to determine how we’ll welcome them in 2021.

The younger half of the group, the high school class of 2022, will be guaranteed a spot in either the CT or Helping Hands program in summer 2021. Unfortunately, we can’t guarantee that it will be the same program they were planning on in summer 2020 – we will need to make room for the high school class of 2023 coming up, but they will be guaranteed a spot, and we’re excited to have them. Danielle will be in touch with all of them in the fall to determine that process.

The older half of the group, the high school class of 2021, will be high school graduates in the summer of 2021, and mostly legal adults. That will mean that they’re ready for the Assistant Counselor program. That is a big step, an important one, the first time they’ll put on a green tie (even if it’s a metaphorical one for the boys) and fully accept responsibility for our campers’ experience. So, we will need them to apply, interview, and make the full commitment to the AC program (which means spending both main sessions and staff training at Camp). We can’t weaken the standards of that program, because our campers’ experience is directly dependent on it. But, we will do everything in our power to welcome anyone in this group who is ready, willing, and able to Camp as an AC in summer 2021.

What about some sort of virtual camp experience?

We will continue to offer virtual Evening Fires periodically throughout the summer, as long as interest remains high, and we will continue the increased (for us) posting on social media throughout the summer. We may offer other periodic camp activities if it feels appropriate and possible to do so Our aim will be to provide connection to Camp in this extraordinary time. We don’t think that trying to replace the Camp experience with something virtual is a good goal.

What does this mean for the year round staff? What will they do this summer?

One of the less-discussed aspects of Four Winds is that for Orcas Island, we’re a medium-sized year-round employer. Our plan includes keeping our year-round staff employed throughout this crisis. We’ll use the opportunity of 21 months in between seasons for the first time in 93 years to take on projects that tend to get deferred when we’re in our standard seasonal cycle. The exact list will come into focus as this announcement shakes out, but regardless, we’ll make good use of the time to make camp better than it’s ever been.

I have more questions. How can I get a hold of you?

The best method is probably email, but you’re welcome to call as well. Our office staff are all working remotely due to the stay at home order in Washington. We’ve set up our auto attendant to reflect that and get you to the right person, but email is probably still more efficient if you’re willing, even if it’s just to schedule a phone call. We expect a flood of messages in response to this closure, and thank you in advance for your patience.