Opinion | How to Save Sleepaway Camps

Imagine this: Just over the horizon, deep purple and orange skies, the sun setting behind emerald-green mountains. You and your partner are sitting close together, listening to the campfire musicians, while your children roast s’mores in the distance. You’re not even paying that much attention to them now — that’s what the summer camp counselors are for. Instead you’re sharing a laugh, about how terrible you were at rock climbing earlier that day. Those are exactly the kinds of restorative moments a family retreat at summer camp can provide.

Across the country, thousands of sleepaway summer camps face financial catastrophe because of the coronavirus pandemic. Many are weighing how, or even if, to open this summer. To meet the twin problems of potential financial demise and providing overstressed families some relief, we have a solution: Turn camps into family retreats. At Blue Star Camps, a Jewish sleepaway camp in Hendersonville, N.C., founded in 1948 for children ages 6 to 16, we will be doing just that as part of our creative plan for operating. We believe that if camps across the country announce similar plans, camps will be saved not just for this summer, but for many summers to come.

We believe that summer camps heal and strengthen social bonds, and therefore provide a vital service during these stressful times. While we cannot predict exactly what the state of public health will be in our home state or other states during the summer months, we do know that families are yearning for safe outdoor spaces where their children can feel free again. We know that camps have always been those safe spaces. By opening cabins to entire families, camps can provide the same invigorating social connections and memorable moments for parents and their families as they always have for kids.

Many parents feel acutely overstretched right now. We struggle to balance professional obligations, teaching and caring for our kids, and checking in on our own parents and loved ones. We battle the barrage of noise — breaking news, anxiety about when our local stay-at-home orders might lift to that next phase, the latest presidential tweet. And we experience fewer of those “silver lining” moments that in the pre-pandemic days restored our sanity.

Emerging research shows that the Covid-19 pandemic has begun to increase anxiety levels across the population. According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, nearly half of those polled in the United States report that the pandemic has adversely affected their mental health.

With hiking and horseback trails, art-based outdoor activities and other curated multigenerational programming, summer camps can provide the backdrop for a family vacation that is both mentally restorative and safe from infection.

We know that camps provide stress relief for participants.We also know that camps can adjust to make their environments as safe as possible during this pandemic. Drawing on the American Camp Association’s “Camp Operations Guide Summer 2020,” recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and guidance from local and state health departments, camps can develop smart health and safety protocols.

In our case, we have the capacity to house more than 1,000 people on site, but will cap our number of families at 40. Including our veteran staff, we will have fewer than 250 people on our 500-acre property at any time. Staff members will take a Covid-19 test and quarantine for 14 days before camp starts. (We’ll be partnering with Rutgers University to batch-order enough F.D.A.-approved saliva tests for the staff, with extra to store in our health center.)

Sessions will be five days each, with two days between sessions for disinfecting. Families will all drive to camp for the sessions and arrive and depart on the same day. Once on site, everyone will remain at camp for their entire stay. Families will complete health questionnaires before they arrive, and will get their temperatures checked every day that they are at camp. One camp counselor will be assigned to each family and will interact with only that family for the week. For mealtimes, families will have a choice of getting their food from dining halls as takeout or eating in one of our three separate dining halls at safe social distance from other families.

We are taking the risk of ramping up our staffing and operational costs to prepare for opening this summer because of the reward of providing a safe haven for our families. If we can go through with our plans, we project that we will come close to breaking even.

But we cannot be certain these plans will be possible. We encourage every camp leader to open only if your state and local health departments deem it safe. We are also planning to run a one-month “super session” for campers only, with extensive testing and quarantine practices in place, and are considering financial modeling to mitigate substantial losses. The reality is that we cannot run a full traditional camp this summer. But we don’t necessarily need to fully close either. Every summer, we give our camp a different theme, and this one is no different: wonder in the mountains.

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Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/25/opinion/summer-camp-coronavirus.html

World news – Opinion | How to Save Sleepaway Camps

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