By Eileen Snow Price
This summer was our 9th summer of running camp. When we made the decision to close camp, we had nearly 650 campers registered. That was in April and we just couldn’t see how to safely bring kids together. By May, experts were understanding more about COVID and how the virus is transmitted, so we began plans to bring in-person camp to our families.
We wanted to give kids a space to build community, interact with peers, be active, and have fun. We wanted them to have a sense of normalcy after months of being cooped up at home. We wanted to give parents a much-needed break. We wanted to support our families during this crisis.
We knew right away that it would have to be a modified camp experience. After all, In the City Camps is based on letting kids choose their activities and mixing and mingling with campers from other bunks – a HUGE “no no” during a pandemic. So, I reached out to one of our Board members who also happens to be a mom with public health training. I also consulted a physician at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and a scientist at the CDC.
The first thing we thought about was how can we keep kids safe AND allow them to have fun? We wanted this to feel like camp. We wanted kids to be silly and active, to make new friends and develop closer relationships with old ones. We wanted to keep the magic of summer camp and of In the City alive. So, we got to work…
We created a health and safety plan that outlined protocols and structures we’d need in place to keep campers and counselors healthy. That gave us some ground rules for the program:
- It needed to be outdoors.
- We had to have pods of children that didn’t interact with other pods.
- We had to limit the number of campers we could serve.
- We had to have a schedule that created space between people arriving and departing from camp.
With all of this at the center, we knew what to do. We created specialty tracks so that campers could still choose their activity – they just had to choose it before camp started. We decreased the amount of time campers were with us since they had to be outside and July in Georgia is hot! We rented tents for each pod and spread them across our camp location. We staggered carpool arrival and departure times and had different drop off locations for the various tracks.
After the first week, I took a deep breath. It worked! Kids were having fun. Parents were happy. We were making the summer better for our families! But, it was stressful. Even knowing we were following all the best practices – counselors wearing masks, proper hand washing and hygiene, physical distancing – you never know what can happen.
Fast forward, we did it! We successfully ran an amazing summer camp for four weeks during a pandemic. Once we understood how to prevent the virus spread, we used our methodology to adapt and provide fun and care for our campers, so they feel like they had a normal summer. And, ultimately, we made families happy!
So, now what? We are using our summer model and creating pop-up camps called ITC Clusters around metro-Atlanta to give kids a social space after virtual school. We know how to keep kids safe and let them have fun at the same time! And, we’re going to do it again – starting in September.
Eileen Snow Price is CEO of In the City Camps.