Businesses and nonprofits suffered greatly in 2020 under government mandates and shutdowns as the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the United States and the world. One of the industries that took the hardest hit during the pandemic was tourism and recreation, as evident in a new report by the North Dakota Department of Tourism that outlined the loss of more than $1 billion through visitation and visitor spending in the state.

As a result, many entities focused on travel, tourism and hospitality were left struggling to survive.

In response the North Dakota Department of Commerce's Hospitality Economic Resiliency Grant (ERG) was created to cover basic operational costs for businesses in the hospitality sector that were closed on March 13, 2020, as a result of Executive Order 2020-06.

As part of the ERG, North Dakota will grant funding up to $50,000 for businesses that were affected by mandates, and up to $100,000 for businesses with more than one location.

Badlands Ministries has long provided a place for people of all ages and denominations to experience the power of Christ's love and witness the majesty of God's creation since 1928. The camp, located in Medora provides on-site programming, retreats, events and day camps — and were greatly impacted by the executive order in March.

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The state awarded Badlands Ministries $5,712.17 in ERG funding.

At their board meeting on April 26, 2020, Badland Ministries decided they would be unable to continue their day camps and would need to shorten the summer youth camps as the pandemic and government response left many tourism and hospitality services reeling.

“At some point we had to make a decision because we had to hire for the summer staff and figure out our curriculum … We had our board meeting in which we made the final decision to push back our summer camps and cancel the day camps,” Brent Seaks, executive director of Badlands Ministries, said. “After talking with Sherry Adams, our local health official, we knew we could do onsite camps safely, but would have to modify to do so. We shortened our season, which gave us more time to prepare.”

The board, made up of volunteers, was adamant about doing some kind of ministry, albeit cautiously.

“Like all organizations it was very challenging to navigate what to do. When I look back in hindsight, I think we made the right choice,” Seaks said. “We also knew we had to be very cautious if things didn't go the way we planned, but at the same time the way we run our program in small group ministries allowed kids to stay with their small cabin group and with their counselor and it really fit well with the guidelines.”

To adhere to the regulatory guidelines and executive orders from the state, Badlands Ministries were forced to dig deeper into their pockets and spend $6,000 to modify their camps with a focus on more sanitization stations and providing each staff member and camper with unique Badlands Ministries “bask” masks.

Despite restrictions, Badlands Ministries did not have a single camper or staff member test positive for coronavirus.

“We knew what we had to do to follow guidelines and we did just that,” Seaks said. “Obviously no one bugdeted for [the pandemic] but we knew we wanted to continue our ministries and we were trusting the finance would work out.”

Last year, Badlands Ministries also received $55,200 from a PPP loan and a generous donor nearly doubled that with a contribution of another $50,000. The two crestfalls in money allowed Badlands to have more income than expenses. Still, the grant they received was far from expected.

“The grant was great news, when we spent that money we were already expecting to have to make it up in other ways,” Seaks said. “I realize that we are one of many small business and non-profit that was rewarded funds and I extend appreciation for everyone who got it because I'm sure, just like us, that it made a huge difference because everyone wants to be safe even while struggling to operate.”

Moving forward, Badlands Ministries said they are staying up to date with North Dakota’s case numbers for coronavirus and will see how the vaccine impacts the summer before deciding whether or not to bring back their day camps.

“We are proud to remain one of the least expensive ELCA camps in the entire nation,” Seaks said. “We also want to know from our partner community what their thoughts are, if they are comfortable in 2021, having young adults staying in the community… Their feedback will be very important.”