Camps Should be a Part of Our Community Response to COVID-19

By Mikey Latner

Whether they run or not, camps should be a part of our community response to COVID-19

If you’re a camp director, camper, or a parent who is desperate to get their kid out of the house, you’re probably anxiously refreshing emails to determine whether your camp will be open this summer. You may be dizzied by the array of perspectives on what to do. A pediatrician and statistician say open up, while camp directors  and whole camping movements are deciding to close. But whether or not your camp is open this summer, one thing is certain: camps have a pivotal role to play to help children and families move through the COVID-19 crisis.

At Project:Camp, we combine the supportive, therapeutic powers of camp with trauma therapy uniquely designed for children. We train educators, camp professionals, and organization leaders to incorporate trauma-informed programming and concepts into their work. We empower communities to implement pop-up, volunteer-based day camps (TactiCamps) to care for children impacted by disaster. Our programs were developed by a long-time camp professional and a trauma therapist, and we help people provide a safe, healing space for kids when they need it most. All of our work is focused on one goal: mitigating the long-term, harmful effects of toxic stress in children from extreme events. 

Extreme events like COVID-19 can have a profound impact on kids. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can have lasting, negative effects on health, well-being, and opportunity.” Adverse childhood experiences can be one-off events, such as a wildfire, sustained events such as the COVD-19 pandemic, or structural traumas such as poverty and violence. Without intervention, the COVID-19 pandemic, compounded with other traumas that children might be experiencing, can have a long-term negative psychological impact on our children.

The good news is that ACEs and their associated harms are preventable. The CDC acknowledges that “Creating and sustaining safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments for all children and families can prevent ACEs and help all children reach their full health and life potential.” And camps, with their history, skills, and experience of providing a nurturing space for children, are uniquely positioned to do just that, by marshalling its resources to help kids and their families process this pandemic before lasting negative effects set in.

So, regardless of whether or not you are open this summer, here is how you can stay relevant and help out:

  1. If you are running camp this summer, learn how to use your program to empower kids to process and heal.

Create a safe space for kids to congregate using CDC guidelines, and give kids a sense of consistency by maintaining clear schedules. Provide campers with opportunities to speak openly with each other about what they are experiencing. Consider training staff to be trauma-informed, to provide these kinds of opportunities, and know when and how to bring in a mental health professional. Show them that there is life outside of and after the pandemic.

  1. If you are not running camp this summer, use your resources and find avenues to provide childcare in your own community for people who need it most.

Marshall the resources that you have. As a camp, you have a diverse array of skills and assets that, if you are not running camp, can be focused on areas that help support other parts of your community, such as frontline workers. Consider using your space and staff to provide childcare to frontline workers. Donate materials, facilities, and your time towards child care and resources for those providing child care this summer. Just because camp is not running does not mean that you need to sit this one out.

We’re not firefighters. We’re not doctors. But as integral members of our communities, so-called “camp people” have unique skills that can and should be leveraged during this crisis in collective support of our communities. Together, we can prevent this pandemic from turning into a lasting traumatic experience. Let’s use our skills and get to work. 

Mikey Latner is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Project:Camp, a Southern California-based nonprofit that works to provide trauma-informed child care training and day camp to communities affected by disasters.