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5 Questions with Stu: David Mariner, Executive Director of CAMP Rehoboth

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CAMP Rehoboth, a community center in Rehoboth Beach and recipient of a COVID-19 Community Needs Grant, has a mission of building a community inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities. A mission that became undoubtably difficult during a worldwide pandemic. They seek to promote community well-being on all levels; to foster the development of community groups; to develop community space; to promote human and civil rights; to work against prejudice and discrimination; to lessen tensions among the community at large; and to help foster the economic growth of the area. 

Executive Director David Mariner has been with the organization since October of 2019. I am awed at how David and his team have worked to build opportunity in their community during COVID-19 and the monumental shift they made from a bustling community center in Rehoboth to virtual events and connections that extended to all of Delaware.

How did your organization shift or pivot at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic?

For just about every aspect of our work, we had to find ways to engage more people online.  At the beginning of the pandemic, fewer people were picking up print copies of our popular magazine, Letters from CAMP Rehoboth, and we stepped up our social media presence to engage our viewers online.   Many of our support groups and health and wellness programs, including yoga and meditation, transitioned to virtual formats. Our CAMP Rehoboth Chorus began presenting video performances, and we launched a YouTube channel. Our number of social media posts nearly tripled at the height of the pandemic, and I think our community really appreciated finding ways to stay connected, albeit virtually.

Sandy the cat enjoying a CAMP Rehoboth online yoga class

What adjustments did you make in response to COVID about which you are most proud?

Our annual fundraising event, Sundance, also transitioned to a primarily virtual format.  I am proud of our Sundance team, who created engaging virtual events and transitioned to very successful online auction, but I am also extremely proud of our community, our hosts, and our sponsors, who stepped up to support CAMP Rehoboth in the midst of a challenging time.   

Has all that happened in 2020 changed the way your organization will operate in the future, even after the pandemic? How?

When many of our programs went online, we realized the opportunity to connect with folks who are a bit farther away in Sussex County, and even all of Delaware. Even after the pandemic has ended, many of our programs, and particularly our youth programs, will continue to have an online component because we realize how important it is for us to maintain these connections.

How will you use what you’ve learned to continue to build opportunity in the future?

There are two important lessons I’ve learned. First, I have a deeper appreciation for just how important the services are we provide.  A community center really brings people together, and it was during that period when people were most isolated, that I understood just how important those connections are. I will carry that with me as we continue to expand our work.  Second, like many organizations, COVID forced us to make changes quickly, and sometimes testing the boundaries of our comfort level.  I learned we are capable of making big changes, and that often those changes have unexpected payouts. I’m ready for the next center.

Going forward, what are you most excited about?

We are a community center, after all, so I’m most excited about seeing our rooms filled with the people that make it special.