RARITAN, NJ - The Raritan borough council did not make a final determination at its meeting this week about whether to run a summer camp this year.
The camp has run successfully for the past three years, but the recreation department under new leadership has raised liability issues.
Borough attorney Bill Robinson was consulted, and, while he advised that municipally-run camps are not bound by the weighty standards private camps are held to, he said it would be wise to adhere to as many of them as possible.
Amy Urbanowicz, the camp director for the past three years, explained that although the attorney sent her the Department of Health requirements, her employment with the town has always begun on the first day of camp and ended on the last day. It seems, she said, that all of the pre-camp work from registering children and hiring counselors to setting up, buying supplies and readying equipment was done by the recreation department.
That left a gap in the timeline and responsibility for the preparation of policies. It became apparent that no one was sure how many of the 56 individual sections under the 15 subchapters of the NJ Youth Camp Safety Standards were already in place since the documents could not be located at town hall.
The disappointment among the half dozen moms, former camp director and a former counselor was evident during the council meeting.
However, the effort to keep the camp going isn’t the whole story. What stood out at the Tuesday council meeting is how this community came together to achieve a goal.
Resident Kellyann Gallagher explained all that was provided to Urbanowicz was a link to the Safety Standards with no guidance as to the gaps in the Raritan program that needed to be filled.
“So, we did what any problem-solving, dedicated residents who love their town and summer camp program would do, we helped Amy,” she said. “The group spent almost 18 hours working on a set of policies to meet code and making an outline of what needed to be done.”
Eleven-year old Maggie Youngman said she would be disappointed if there wasn’t a camp program this year.
“I make new friends at camp and I make memories there that I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” she said.
Stacey Zimmerman, a Bridgewater resident whose children go to the borough camp, spoke about how the camp helps foster relationships. She also pointed out the problems with Urbanowicz’s starting and ending dates of employment.
Mayor Zachary Bray said he had just been made aware of Urbanowicz’s employment and realized that had to be addressed. He said his other concern was the occupancy capacity at the pool house where the campers go in inclement weather.
Bray said that by the next meeting, he will have that information from the fire chief.
The other factor delaying a final decision is that the policy work and outline that the mom’s group completed only reached council members a few hours before the meeting, and none of them had had the chance to thoroughly read it. Again, it was promised that they would all be ready at the next meeting to make an informed decision.
Resident Carrie Ann Youngman told the council, “consider what has taken place here, the community effort. It’s amazing to see what can happen when people work together. It’s what we need to teach our children. Let’s keep what works.”
Gallagher summed things up.
“I implore the borough to look at the work our little team did in one week, pulling late hours after full days of work and taking care of our families,” she said. “We’ve tried to lay a solid footing for you, to help you re-evaluate. I’d also like to point out that in our little group, not everyone had skin in the game, not all of us had planned to use the summer camp. We did it because we feel strongly about the value added to the community and we want to teach our children the importance of every individual’s contribution to the neighborhood in which they live.”