The summer season camp business in PA is “fragile”, however cabins are filling up regardless of the pandemic
Perhaps a year after this pandemic you see your children as more or less good. They could behave as they always do and dress alike. Maybe they have gotten a little bigger or have longer hair.
But what executive directors of summer camps see in children this year is almost an urgent situation.
“They’re fighting,” said Dennis Tawney, general manager of Camp Allegheny in Stoystown, Somerset County. “When you get into a temporary isolated community, which is what the camp is, it’s amazing. You break down barriers and, to some extent, become a different person.
“Our staff has additional training on what children are going through, how they feel and how they interact, and how they function in the community,” he said. “This is camp.”
Tom Rosenberg, chairman of the board of the American Camp Association, was just as enthusiastic about the value of the summer camps as the pandemic up through the second year.
“The camp has never been as important as it is today,” said Rosenberg. “We always talk about the loss of education and youth development. But we also have to consider emotional and social loss.
“While children with access to a computer were able to socialize digitally, most had little or no personal interaction,” he said. “How does a child go one year without belonging to a group?
“They are hungry to try new things, make new friends, explore new things in a safe environment with best practices to restore and practice some of that trust and empathy, awareness of others.”
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“So much importance to go to camp”
Unlike many parents, Carla Holderbaum of Monroeville, a suburb of Pittsburgh, sent her 16-year-old twin daughters to Camp Allegheny in the summer of 2020 after investigating her plans for child safety.
You visited the camp for years, Holderbaum said. In 2020 a daughter, Ellie, went as a camper. The other, Emma, worked on staff.
“It is so valuable to go to camp,” said Holderbaum. “They learn so much, make lifelong friends. They still have friends – another group of twins – to keep in touch with. They always make sure they go the same week. It’s wonderful.
“You learn about nature, God and responsibility,” she said. “It’s a real treasure.”
Holderbaum said she was investigating how Camp Allegheny dealt with the virus.
“I knew they had taken all the necessary precautions and I was comfortable with that,” she said.
Tawney said he was one of only 8% of camps open to children overnight in 2020.
“We took extreme precautions. The American Camp Association and CDC then – and now – provided guides when things change.”
Working together to ensure the safety of children
The American Camp Association helped make camps work at all in 2020 and is invaluable for camps reopening this season. This is because once the pandemic was declared, with the help of every scientist they could pin down, they began creating an industry standard field guide.
“We know the CDC will have its hands full with thousands of industry recommendations,” said Rosenberg.
We published a (call for proposals) to promote environmental health and a panel of experts made up of epidemiologists, hygienists, people who understand disease-specific best practices and others, and a consensus report on how to work best, and published it in late April.
“We kept and improved it all year round,” said Rosenberg. “We have conducted webinars based on the field guide. Many industries use the knowledge contained in this guide.”
Deke Rider, executive director of Camp Hebron in Halifax, Dauphin County, said that thanks to the field guide, they managed to stay open at 67% capacity year-round during the pandemic.
“We put families in small private homes,” said Rider. “And had overnight kids for seven out of eight weeks of their season.”
The driver said the camp is able to stay afloat on 700 overnight campers and 130-day campers, as well as family retreats.
“Currently the registrations are the same in 2019,” he said. “We learned a little and were COVID-free last summer. So when it comes to policies and procedures, we prevailed over others who were closed.”
Although they lost between 60% and 70% of their retreat income and campers were less than usual, Camp Hebron is still in good shape thanks to donations, which are up 300% this year from 2020, Rider said.
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Nothing is more important than bringing the children back
Camp Fitch, an ACA member camp in Springfield Township, Erie County, on the Ohio border, did not accept its normal 2,800 children for overnight camps but allowed families to use its accommodations last year.
“We had summer family camping,” said Tom Parker, General Manager of Camp Fitch. “We looked after 400 families who stayed for three days and two nights each.”
He said no one contracted the virus and it had generated much-needed revenue so that by 2021 they would have the experience and capital to open their doors to everyone.
“We already have 1,600 registrations as of March 11th, and we’re getting at least 15 to 20 registrations a day,” said Parker. He said they need to be 70% busy, which means they can accept a total of 2,076 capacity for now. “
That number could rise, as the Pennsylvania Department of Health allows.
He will take in as many children as possible, because nothing is more important to him than a week at Camp Fitch.
“As humans, we need people with us, and they build bonds and connections,” said Parker. “Being outdoors enables children to regain a sense of normalcy, to be outdoors, to cultivate friendships, successes and belonging.”
“The warehouse industry is currently fragile.”
It’s too early to say how many camps fail, but everyone said they heard of camps that have been permanently closed due to the financial crisis of the pandemic.
“I would definitely say that the bearing industry is fragile right now,” said Rosenberg. “We know of 82 overnight stays (camps) that were not operated and had to reimburse tuition fees. We are doing everything we can to support them financially and help them achieve this next summer.
“I think it will take three to five years for this industry to settle down,” he said.
In the meantime, the need for camps has never been greater, experts agree.
“I know every boy and girl needs a summer study program,” said Rider at Camp Hebron. “We are doing everything we can to work with the government and be ready to start this summer.”
Parker at Camp Fitch has the same priority.
“It also helps that we are blessed,” he said. “‘People are giving to Camp Fitch. Donations are higher this year than in previous years. People want to make sure these kids get back to summer camp.”
Contact Jennie Geisler at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @ETNgeisler.