On Monday, July 6, the South Shore YMCA opened its three summer day camps as part of “Phase 2” of the state’s reopening plan. For months beforehand, despite uncertainty, the Y’s camp directors put plans in place to prepare their staff and welcome local families into their programs.
“At one point during the spring I didn’t know if we would be able to run camp this summer,” said Phil Gay, director of Camp Quirk at the Quincy YMCA, who primarily spent his spring working at the Germantown Neighborhood Center food pantry. “It’s amazing to have camp this summer.”
“We put a lot of work into this,” said Chris Crossen-Sills, director of Camp Gordon Clark at the Emilson Y in Hanover. “We have a great group of staff who bought into what we needed to do and agreed that camp was really important, now more than ever, for the campers who have been stuck at home, but also for the staff.” As the largest employer of teens on the South Shore, the Y brings in hundreds of teens for seasonal work as camp counselors each summer. “So, this really represented something, almost like a responsibility that we had, to find a way to make it work, to find a way to facilitate camp, not just for the kids but for the staff, for their families. It was a really big undertaking, but I’m really happy that we were able to do that.”
Due to state and local board of health protocols, camp looks a little bit different this year. “We drastically changed our pick up and drop off procedure to a rolling drop off,” said Crossen-Sills. “We have a mask policy that kids wear masks a majority of the time unless they are in the pool or eating lunch. Our staff is cleaning the tables constantly throughout the day. Our goal is to keep kids, staff and parents safe and confident.”
“We were surprised that masks were not a deal breaker for parents or children,” said Chris Jacobs, Executive Director at the Y’s South Shore Natural Science Center and its Nature Adventures Camp. “The kids have been great about it.”
“I think if you showed up at camp and the kids were not wearing masks, then from an outsider’s point of view you’d think it was just a regular camp day. It feels like camp as always for the kids,” said Bruce Netherwood, South Shore YMCA’s Vice President of Camping Services.
That “regular camp” feeling was not easy to accomplish. “Because we have to break up the groups for physical distancing, the biggest struggle for our camp leadership is to make everybody feel like they are part of a camp community, while also stressing that you have to stay separate from each other,” said Crossen-Sills. For safety purposes, there is no transportation by bus, nor are there outside visitors bringing specialty programs into the camps. But there are many familiar sights, sounds and experiences for campers this year.
“Our staff are almost all returning camp staff so our campers see lots of familiar faces,” said Gay. “We still have camp songs and camper t-shirts. And swimming has always been a big part of our camp. This year we have been able to add an additional day of swim for all groups.”
“Beyond the safety protocols, our staff is still continuing all the traditions, all the special aspects that make camp special, trying to make camp as normal as possible,” said Netherwood.
“Initially, there were so many parents who were hesitant, and I asked them to trust us,” said Crossen-Sills. “Parents who had only signed their kid up for one week are now calling back and signing up for multiple weeks because their experience was so great. We have been getting that reaction, and that is such a beautiful affirmation that the parents feel comfortable with us.”
As one Camp Gordon Clark camper’s parent shared, “My son, Chase, had a blast this week and he can’t wait to go back next week! I know the circumstances are really challenging and it seems like [the Y has] worked so hard to come up with some great solutions.”
“We have always been an outdoor camp,” said Jacobs of her Nature Adventures Camp, “Hiking, ponding, exploring nature outside in the fresh air is what we’ve always done. Now, we just do it with slightly smaller groups, more hand washing and sanitizing.”
At the end of the day – the end of each day, in fact – the kids feel like they have been at camp, and that is the greatest affirmation of all. “I am seeing kids who don’t want to go home,” said Crossen-Sills, “and not for anything negative. They just want to stay because they are having a great time. They have been home for three to four months and this is the first opportunity to do something different, to be amongst their friends. The number of kids who want to show up earlier and leave later has just been incredible.”
“Each day our campers come excited to spend time with their friends,” said Gay, “and every night our campers leave camp tired and happy. The parents have expressed to me how much happier their children are because they are spending time with peers and re-building friendships with friends they haven’t seen since March.”
“In the tennis lobby at the end of the day,” said Bob Carroll, running the Y’s tennis camps at the Emilson Y, “I see kids – many exhausted – lean into the arms of their parents. The squints in their eyes, though, give away the smiles under their masks.”
“I think camp was needed more than ever this year,” said Netherwood. “To be able to watch the kids run around and be kids again in this time, it feels great.”
About the South Shore YMCA
The South Shore YMCA is a leading charitable organization dedicated to strengthening community. Since 1892, the Y has served communities across the South Shore of Massachusetts and beyond, engaging over 60,000 adults, children, families and seniors each day through membership, critical social services, and programs that support a healthy spirit, mind and body. The Y empowers everyone by ensuring access to resources, relationships and opportunities for all to learn, grow and thrive. By bringing together people from all backgrounds, the Y’s goal is to improve overall health and well-being, ignite youth empowerment and demonstrate the importance of connections throughout our community. To learn more about the South Shore YMCA and our causes, visit ssymca.org. The Better You Belongs Here.