Sun Festival’s Big Tent
As the saying goes, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” For the second year in a row, the pandemic forced CAMP Rehoboth to reimagine the event formerly known as Sundance. Holding a dance was just not the prudent thing to do because of the uptick in breakthrough infections. The staff and Board were as frustrated as the seniors of Elmore High School in the movie Footloose.
For those who may not have seen the film, it is based on a true story about a town in Oklahoma that outlawed dancing within the city limits for religious reasons. That created an obvious barrier to the seniors who wanted to celebrate at the prom with their friends. In many ways, Sundance was no different because each Labor Day the community came together to mark an important milestone celebrating all-things-CAMP-Rehoboth and dancing the night away with friends and family.
Like Elmore’s senior class, the staff and Board were determined to find a way to continue this annual tradition and accomplish the same goals: raising vital funds to support CAMP Rehoboth while at the same time providing opportunities for community members to celebrate with one another.
Instead of lamenting that the usual format just was not possible, the planning committee used this opportunity to reimagine Sundance. There were certain ground rules: whatever we planned had to leave people feeling a sense of camaraderie—mutual trust and friendship among people who spend a lot of time together. Safety was also top of mind, which meant offering multiple, safe ways for people to join the fun.
The result was Sun Festival, a week-long series of events that allowed many different segments of our community to join in based on their comfort level. What I loved about the concept was it allowed us to be intentionally inclusive by incorporating events that engaged a more diverse audience who want to support to CAMP, but for whom dancing is not their “thing.” This first began 12 years ago when CAMP added a 5K, Biathlon, and One-Mile Walk, offering people the chance to run, walk, and swim outdoors—all to support CAMP Rehoboth.
Because music is a universal language, it was a common theme at almost every Sun Festival event. At Iron Hill Brewery on Monday night, more than 300 people gathered over food and drinks to hear music by the women of local band Off 24.
This year CAMP hosted the first-ever Sun Festival Cornhole Tournament and Field Party, where more than 100 people competed or cheered on fiercely competitive teams of mostly women. Special guest DJ Viki Dee spun tunes and a food truck fueled those who worked up an appetite.
Because Labor Day is synonymous with dancing at CAMP Rehoboth, we contacted three amazing businesses to help us deliver what many thought was impossible. Dance events benefitting CAMP held at Aqua Bar and Grill, Port 251, and Diego’s throughout the week brought men and women of all ages to the dancefloor once again. Just hearing the pulsating anthems at Aqua while dancing at my table outside brought a huge smile to my face and many others’ faces that night.
The two final events, Friday’s performance by the musical comedy group The Skivvies, and Saturday’s concert featuring Broadway star Jennifer Holliday, sealed the deal for me. Community members of all ages, races, sexual orientations, and gender identities came together to put on a show like none other in the past two years. I witnessed firsthand the passion and dedication of volunteers who used décor, lights, and flowers to transform the ordinary convention center into an intimate venue. But it was the hundreds of attendees who came out to support CAMP Rehoboth that blew me away.
Everywhere I turned I saw familiar as well as new faces, all beaming with excitement from behind their masks. It truly felt like almost 30 other Labor Day weekends I have spent in Rehoboth’s Convention Center where friends and so many others came together to support the organization so many of us cherish. The icing on the cake occurred when Jennifer Holliday closed the show with dance hit “No Frills Love.” As a group of us jumped to our feet and danced off to the side, I experienced an endorphin rush I so sorely missed and needed.
In the coming months, we will take time to assess what worked and what changes we may consider for next year. I know one thing for sure: we will always seek to make Sun Festival and other CAMP events as inclusive as possible. We cannot afford to do otherwise. ▼
Wesley Combs, a CAMP Rehoboth Board member, is a diversity and inclusion expert, executive coach, and a passionate social justice advocate. He is the founding principal of Combs Advisory Services where he works with clients who share his values of enabling equity, equality, and opportunity in the workplace and the community.