CAMDEN, NJ — In the past month, you could hear a pin drop inside the Boys & Girls Club’s four thousand square-foot facility in East Camden. 

The use of its swimming pool, music lab, art room, technology center, game room, and open education lounge has largely been at a standstill this year after the building closed its doors March 13 over the COVID-19 pandemic.

The chapter’s CEO Bernadette Shanahan hopes the center’s amenities won’t go entirely to waste this summer — an ordinarily busy time for the area’s more than 150 members ages 5 to 18.

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“We of course want to have the camps this year and if we do, we understand we’ll have kids dealing with a variety things they never really dealt with before,” Shanahan told TAPinto Camden. “For one, they will not have been in school for three months, and we expect they’ll be some learning loss and emotional challenges there. We may not know all of what we’ll be facing.”

On the program side, the club would add an additional week to its typical two-week summer training regiment to communicate guidelines taking cues from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Shanahan said for the first time they’ll have to be extra mindful of crowd sizes when carrying out group activities, providing instructions on hand washing, and keeping stock of PPE.

“We usually take two trips a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the summer to places like the zoo and Franklin Institute, so now we have to figure out how to take some virtual tours and increase educational offerings to bring kids back up to speed on certain topics,” said Shanahan.

Many kids who don’t go on trips, she added, like to take advantage of the club’s swimming pool — an option that will likely not be on the table this year. 

The B&G Club CEO said many organizations are heading into uncharted territory in the hottest months of the year - simultaneously working to cultivate a fun environment for children, quell parent’s fears as much as possible and keep its own staff safe throughout the process.  

On Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy announced the extension of school closures for the remainder of the academic year. Clarifications are still forthcoming regarding summer school and the start of the academic year come fall.

Organizations like the B&G club say they are additionally relying on any protocols that may come down at the state level.

Shanahan said she has also consistently kept in contact with other New Jersey clubs to come up with a game plan would a version of summer camps be possible this year. 

Meantime, the club worked in conjunction with the Camden City School District’s meal and remote packet distribution days to provide school supplies concurrently to the district throughout March and April. A spokesperson for the organization also said pop-up food pantries have allowed the Boys & Girls Club in partnership with other organizations like the Food Bank of South Jersey to help the city address food insecurity. 

While volunteers have checked in with members and are able to carry out tutoring and assistance with homework via phone or video, some B&G Club programs — like a cooking workshop they offer — have had to be put aside entirely for the time being. 

“It’s hard not to be in the building with the kids,” Shanahan said. “To welcome them, be able to see their faces. I recall the last week we were open, having to enforce social distancing so that kids couldn’t high-five or hug their favorite counselor. It was really hard.”

Planning for the rest of the year has been complicated further with the club, among more than 20 in the Garden State, expected to take a significant financial hit this year, Shanahan said.

Yet with all the reasons to get down, the CEO said her team and students have helped her maintain an optimistic attitude.

“There are good days and bad days, like anyone has,” she said. “I celebrate what I can celebrate and let the kids know that they’re not alone through all this. Those messages are out there. We have to be positive.”

To donate to the Boys & Girls Club’s COVID-19 relief fund click here.

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