Local summer camp leaders are planning for multiple scenarios of how to proceed during the coronavirus pandemic while parents remain eager to enroll their kids back into a routine of sunscreen, swimming and making friendship bracelets.
Most camps are preparing for summer as usual while knowing that any day now, news from the Department of Health or CDC could determine the fate of their operations.
“We are actively planning for the summer,” said Jamie Sirkin, owner and director of Summer Trails Day Camp in Granite Springs. “Camp directors plan all year for the summer months and we have continued to do that. Just like the rest of the world, we are anxiously awaiting the green light from the Department of Health, state officials, the CDC and all of those decision-makers, that we’ll be permitted to open this summer, and we’ll be able to provide a safe and fun environment for our community.”
Camp Kiwi director Will Yahr said that the Carmel camp is continuously planning for this summer’s operations and plans to open on schedule.
“I would say we’re almost where we would be in a normal time of year, we’re just being cautiously optimistic with what the outcome is going to be,” Yahr said. “We feel strongly that there should be camps this summer, and we want to be as ready and prepared for it as possible.”
Maxwell Dineen-Carey, director of Pied Piper Preschool and Summer Camp, said the preschool camp has been planning to open on June 29.
“We’re going to continue to do the same thing we normally do, follow the guidelines that we’re given but planning-wise, we’re planning as if we’re going to open the same day we always do,” Dineen-Carey said.
Karen Grazia, director of communications for the Harvey School, said that the Cavalier Camp is currently working out how it will operate this summer.
“While it is difficult to think about summer fun and camp activities given the loss and real struggles faced by many of our local families, we believe that it is important to support our community by continuing to offer summer programming for children in a structured, safe environment,” Grazia said. “While we are waiting for the state’s health department to provide guidelines regarding summer programs, we continue to create plans for both on-campus and virtual camp and learning opportunities. Once we have a clearer sense of what will be possible this summer, we will communicate with our camp community, explaining our plans to safely open while following all guidelines that are in place.”
Jim Gilchrist, recreation director for the town of Carmel, said the town is currently planning to operate summer camps on schedule but is waiting on the final call from the Putnam Department of Health.
“They’re the ones who are going to make the determination if camps are going to happen this summer, and obviously that will be based on what New York State says,” Gilchrist said.
Camp Nabby in Mohegan Lake is in the process of giving everything a new coat of paint and setting up basketball and tennis nets while owner Rita Bertino says they’re optimistic about opening this summer.
“As of right now, we still hope to open on time, but will be ready to go in a variety of potential scenarios,” Bertino said. “We are prepared to honor the recommendations of the state of New York.”
However, town and camp leaders are facing the same sense of uncertainty as the rest of the country at the moment.
Dana M. Mayclim, superintendent of parks and recreation for the town of Lewisboro, said that while the town continues to plan diligently for the summer, there are many unknowns the department must take into consideration.
Yorktown Parks and Recreation Superintendent Jim Martorano Jr. said the department is still considering many factors when it comes to reopening camps this summer.
North Salem Town Supervisor Warren Lucas and Andrew Johnson, assistant superintendent for parks and recreation for the town of Somers, both said their respective towns have not many any decisions yet regarding camps. They both are anticipating more information from the DOH in the next two weeks.
Deborah Lividini, secretary to school administrator for PNW BOCES, said its plans are on hold.
Even so, camps are still fielding calls from parents about registration.
Mayclim said the town is receiving calls daily from parents who want to enroll their children in programs for the summer.
Sirkin said Summer Trails also is receiving calls and inquiries about summer registration.
“We are continually getting people that are interested in registering and I think that when it comes to our children, we want to know that they are in a safe environment and we also want them to have a normal experience,” Sirkin said. “They’ve had weeks or months of being at home and socialization for them is going to be more important than it’s ever been before. Perhaps for parents, too, it’s going to be more important that our kids are socialized and out of the house. We’re fortunate, you know, as someone who has been in the community for over 40 years, and we’ve built a lifelong relationship with our parents and community members and they trust that when we do open, it’s going to be safe to do so and that we’re going to do the things that are necessary to ensure that we’ve upheld the standard that they’ve expected from us the last several decades.”
Despite COVID-19, Yahr of Camp Kiwi said it saw an uptick in this year’s registration.
“Before this all happened, we were having the best year in enrollment that Kiwi has ever had and even with this going on, we are still surpassing numbers from previous years,” Yahr said. “We got off to a strong start and because we’re so strong, we’ve been able to do well. We are seeing more families looking to come to Kiwi this year as they’re finding out that maybe their smaller camps or pool or preschool might not be in operation, so we’ve seen an increase in calls recently. Everyone is going to be in the same boat. We have a lot of families that are just waiting for the government to turn back on, to give the OK.”
Bertino said that Camp Nabby has received calls from families eager to provide a positive summer experience for their children, while Grazia of Harvey School said that though it has received calls for summer registration, there have been fewer compared to a typical year.
While summer camps are hopeful they will be able to open and operate, for which many the start date is June 29, they have developed contingency plans should they be required to open later or told not to operate at all.
“In March, we started planning for a variety of summer camp scenarios. We first started hiring and scheduling for our regular summer offerings,” Grazia said. “We also created models that included additional safety precautions and social distancing measures. Finally, we laid out plans for an online program that could run independently or in conjunction with our regular camp.”
Yahr said he feels a June 29 opening is still feasible.
“We have a great team at Kiwi and we feel like we can camp in ready mode by then, but if we have to wait an additional week or two, we would push camp if we needed to,” Yahr said. “Our plan is to continue to move forward as best as possible using the information we have and patiently wait for the additional information. We’ve been using whatever guidance we can find that we trust.
“We work with the CDC, the ACA [American Camp Association], and we’re going to work with our local health department on whatever those new rules and regulations would be to figure out which of our plans we’re using. The reality is it’s going to be a hybrid. My team of dedicated, year-round individuals have come up with many different scenarios, and we don’t know which one is going to be the approved one, but we’re planning to be as prepared as possible for this.”
However, many said the best feature of camp is the in-person interactions children get to experience.
“We believe the value of attending camp lies in the face-to-face interactions of our staff and campers to develop both physical and social skills,” Bertino said. “After many months of screen time, we hope children will be able to get outdoors this summer and enjoy nature, so currently we do not plan for any online activities.”
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