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Summer camps in York County limit social interactions while keeping kids entertained

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

It wasn't easy organizing summer camps this year for DreamWrights Center for Community Arts, according to executive director Ann Davis.

DreamWrights, which utilizes interpersonal connections and community-building relationships to teach kids performing arts skills, was faced with altering its agenda to comply with social distancing requirements caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's tricky, because most of our camps are really creative, on-your-feet acting," Davis said. 

Like DreamWrights, many summer camps across York County faced the same challenges of organizing fun, entertaining camps for children while maintaining health guidelines and discouraging close social interaction. 

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At the YMCA of York County's southern branch in Shrewsbury Township, summer camps started June 1 with around 50 campers instead of the usual 100 per week, said camp director Travis Bowman. 

Camp organizers have been brainstorming alternative activities to entertain their campers since two of the camp's biggest draws — swimming and field trips — were eliminated from the camp schedule, Bowman said.

"With summer, luckily there's been nice weather so the kids get to go outside more," Bowman said. "We're trying to slowly get back to normal."

To promote social distancing while keeping kids entertained, Bowman said counselors have organized new activities such as outdoor picnics during lunchtime, using pool noodles to play games such as tag and inviting guests to come to the camp instead of having kids travel. 

Camper Stella Catalfo, 6, right, of Stewartstown, snacks on cotton candy grapes while counselor Renee Gering looks on during summer camp at Southern Branch YMCA in Shrewsbury, Thursday, July 2, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo
Mason Damon, 9, of York, kicks the ball during summer camp at Southern Branch YMCA in Shrewsbury, Thursday, July 2, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Additionally, the YMCA implemented a part-time rate for parents so kids could attend camp for three days instead of five days a week.

Similarly, DreamWrights slashed the number of camps the organization typically offers and is started the camp season late, on July 6. This year, about 150 campers  signed up, while the camp usually attracts 300, Davis said.

"Probably one of the struggles is feeling that it was a communal camp," Davis said. "Now it's very isolated."

In previous years, community interaction among the different age groups of campers was an integral part of the DreamWrights program.

This year, however, there is minimal interaction, with each age group of campers split up in different rooms with no communication and staggered lunch and snack breaks, Davis said. 

Additionally, parents are no longer allowed to drop off their kids in the building. They now must drop campers off via a car drop-off instead. 

And on Fridays, DreamWrights' in-person "show-and-tell" events for parents and friends to come see their children perform and showcase what they did throughout the week have been canceled. Instead, staff members will record the performances and email them to parents.

"It's a hard decision to open; we want to be really safe — and it's a concern," Davis said. "We're going forward really cautiously."

The York Jewish Community Center implemented similar rules to the YMCA and DreamWrights, taking campers'  temperatures, having campers wash their hands before entering the building and preventing age groups from mingling.

The JCC canceled all field trips this year, and group sizes were cut in half, from 24 to 12. Additionally, there is a separate entrance for the summer camp to help lessen the number of "touch points" with the center's main entrance, said Erica Grudi, summer camp director for the JCC. 

Aniyah Christy, 11, of Red Lion, plays Ga-ga ball during summer camp at Southern Branch YMCA in Shrewsbury, Thursday, July 2, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Though some of the bigger changes, such as requiring temperature checks for campers, might be strange for kids, Grudi said camp counselors have ensured children feel safe and comfortable.

Additionally, some of the rules implemented, such as frequent hand washing, were already part of the JCC protocol before COVID-19 and familiar to the children who previously attend the center's programs.

"The staff has done beautifully. They are very meticulous with cleaning and making sure they wipe down all surfaces children come in contact with," Grudi said. "And children are very resilient; they don't feel like anything has really changed."

 — Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.