By Rick Cawley
For the Review
After months of being cooped up because of COVID-19 shutdowns, many local youngsters in our area got to experience something that kids have been looking forward to for generations: Summer camp. But as the Philadelphia Parks & Recreation camps in our community recently opened their doors, things have had quite a different feel to them. The preventive measures that have become part and parcel of our daily routines have also taken center stage to help ensure the health and well being of the campers.
For starters, campers 8 or older are required to wear their masks at all times unless they are eating or doing water related activities. The staff, however, are pretty much wearing their masks around the clock.
The kids have been put into small groups, preferably with other siblings, to reduce exposure time with fellow campers. The campers spend their time in these small groups with the same counselor throughout the day. The amount of time with groups interacting has been kept to a minimum so that a lot of the traditional camp-type activities involving larger number are off the table.
The playground surfaces, doorknobs, bathrooms, sports equipment and practically everything that campers might come in contact with are sprayed with disinfectant repeatedly throughout the day. The children have gotten into the habit of utilizing hand sanitizers whenever they enter the buildings or sit down for a snack. These precautionary measures have become more or less routine as campers and staff have quickly adjusted to the new norm.
On top of that, the four recreation centers in our community holding camps this summer will have a myriad of other challenges to deal with depending on the facility. Two of the facilities that usually take advantage of their swimming pools, Kendrick and Hillside, will be unable to use them. Whereas McDevitt, Kendrick and Hillside have full size gymnasiums and other meeting areas at their facility, the Houston Playground is limited to one small building. This could be problematic on stormy days like we had last week when the youngsters would most likely be forced indoors. Fortunately, Houston does have an overhang enveloping their building for the campers to take refuge and utilize some creative socially distant Plan B’s in a pinch.
Houston and McDevitt are also fortunate to have a built-in “spray-ground” area which gets rationed out to rotating groups on steamy days. Lonnie Cohen, head honcho at Hillside, deploys up makeshift sprinklers “to help keep the kids wet on hot days.” He also utilizes his air conditioned classroom for art projects and table games as much as possible.
Having the campers in smaller groups with varying age groups can be a challenge to counselors trying to provide age-appropriate activities for their charges. This can also create an opportunity to come up with safe socially developmental games and give the campers favorable conditions to develop individual athletic and artistic skills since large scale competitions have been removed from the camp landscape. As Shane Martin, Rec Leader at Kendrick, concisely points out, “we do what we have to do to make it work.”
The Rec Leaders at each of the camps heaped praise upon their staff and campers for their willingness to fashion a positive experience out of less than ideal circumstances. Betsy Henninger, Director at Houston, pretty much sums up everyone’s feelings by revealing that “I was anxious in the weeks leading up to camp because of the new camp procedures and the idea of running a camp during this crazy time. After getting through week one and realizing camp is doable, I feel better about the next 5 weeks. She applauded her personnel by stating that” the staff at Houston have been a big part of easing the anxiety as they have stepped up with positive attitudes and tackled the immense amount of cleaning while at the same time keeping the campers entertained in fun activities all day.”