Summer camps forced to adjust to COVID-19 pandemic
SUDBURY -- Overnight summer camps are the latest segment of society forced to reboot amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.
"Overnight camps will remain closed," said Ontario Premier Doug Ford at his daily coronavirus update Monday. "Unfortunately we just can't have camps with 500 kids living together right now. I know this will be tough for many kids who look forward to their overnight camps."
While many camps have been waiting weeks for the final verdict, Camp Quality made its own decision in March. The organization provides camping programs for youth who have been affected by cancer or blood disorders.
"Our population that we serve are children that are immunocompromised," said Jarvis Strong, the executive director for Camp Quality Canada. "We certainly didn't want to take any potential extra risks and so we've had some time to work on this for quite a while."
For 2020, Camp Quality is introducing what it is calling the Camp at Home program. Through a combination of virtual and physical activities, Strong said the goal is to create the sense of community found at Camp Quality.
"I think a lot of people think of summer camp and they picture kids in the trees, around the lake and that's certainly a huge part of it," said Strong. "But we've discovered over 32 years that more than a place, it's about people and a feeling and we feel pretty strongly that we can deliver that, certainly not at the same level but in a meaningful way through a camp at home program."
The kits will include the traditional T-shirt given to campers every year. It will also have supplies for a variety of different activities, ranging from arts and crafts to different science offerings.
Each of Camp Quality's six locations will have a dedicated week for the virtual camp, with the kits being personalized for the region.
"We are going to come together to figure out the things that are unique to the northern camp," said Michaela McGillis, a community outreach and marketing intern with Camp Quality Northern Ontario.
"Activities that we often would do at the northern camp that (are) different than the other camps and (we'll) be able to include those in those boxes. So we'll actually be able to almost give it like a personal touch."
The restriction of overnight camps is one being felt by organizations across the north, including the YMCA. This year marks the 65th anniversary of its John Island camp.
"It is a gem, and for folks who have ever had the opportunity to attend, it holds a very special place in most people's hearts," said Helen Francis, CEO and president of the YMCA of Northeastern Ontario.
"I think it's going to take a little while to get past the grieving of not having that summer season. We had some very exciting alumni camps that were planned, as well, to help us celebrate the 65th anniversary."
While news that overnight camps would not be permitted didn't come as a surprise, Francis said it still leaves a lot of unknowns for staff. She said they are trying to see if a virtual camp of some sort can be arranged.
"It's a very different medium," Francis said. "If it necessarily appeals to everyone, it's to be seen. We're just doing our best to try to connect, create that safe space for belonging for our youth and build all of those wonderful experiences of connecting possibly through a virtual way, but also help them develop those skill sets and competencies of leadership that the camp is known for."
In the meantime, she said Ford's announcement does given them hope the YMCA will be able to offer its traditional day camp programming.
"It would look like there is a potential that day camps may still be allowed to happen in July and August, presuming both we're able to follow the public health guidelines and recommendations that come out," she said.
In the interim, staff are working to make programing available on its website to help keep youth entertained. Recently, McGillis herself hosted an online science experiment live.
"What we do is we just basically pick a science experiment and I just do it on our Facebook live in front of the children," said McGillis. "That way they can either watch it then or watch it later and be able to replicate the same one at home. We try to keep it to stuff that the children would have at home so they are able to participate."
While it won't be possible to entirely recreate the camping experience, Strong said this is far from the biggest obstacle campers of Camp Quality have faced in their young lives.
"They've been dealt a challenging hand in life," Strong said. "We don't want them to have to go back to that level of challenge if we can avoid it. We want to be there so that these kids feel like they are surrounded with love and support, fun and friendship and I think that we can really do that through this program."
Camp Quality is always looking for volunteers. To learn more about the organization or to find out how you may be able to help click here.