Optimism reigns as youth camps prepare for summer season

Campers take advantage of the stunning views at Camp Susan Curtis in Stoneham. Photo submitted

Despite the still looming threat of COVID-19, Maine Summer Camps Executive Director Ron Hall is seeing an increase in early registrations for some Maine camps.

“What’s interesting is that the camps in Maine did so well last summer that they’re filling up faster,” Hall said. “Based on state guidelines — camps last year operated between 60 and 70 percent capacity — and if that were true this summer, camps will be full very soon.

“Most of our summer camps hope to be in operation this summer,” he said. “Last summer, we had a limited number of camps operating. Some of the camps relied on testing…and keeping groups in pods. (The camps) also limited who could enter and leave the camp.

He said the owners of the Maine camp were confident of a more successful season.

“There are tests that indicate it’s safer to have your child in overnight camp than (being) at home, because the exposure they get is much more controlled at camp than at home. home,” Hall said. “The camps were incredibly successful last summer, so I think that’s a big factor…and the more people who get vaccinated, the better.

“The only area we don’t know yet is that we are waiting for the state,” he said. “Last year, camps that run shorter sessions – two weeks or less – didn’t work, and the unfortunate thing is that most of these camps are small, not-for-profit camps that provide an essential service to Maine families.”

Director Terri Mulks of Camp Susan Curtis in Stoneham said they hope to open, but she is awaiting further guidance from the Maine Center for Disease Control.

“We were open last summer for smaller groups of kids,” she said. “We really have a long history of serving economically disadvantaged children in the state of Maine. So they need camp now more than they ever needed before. We are moving forward 100% with hopes of being able to reopen this summer. »

Mulks said kids facing economic hardship don’t often have the benefit of attending summer camp. She added that registration is open to returning campers.

“The other thing that’s a little different for us — because of the population we serve — we actually work directly with their schools and the kids are referred to us,” she explained. “I know for ourselves, we are opening at reduced capacity to make sure we can stay safe and healthy – and we are going to have a lot of things in place… things like lots of hand washing and smaller groups . So those things will definitely be in play like last summer.

Mulks added that vaccinations are important, but there are other factors to consider this season.

“The children are not vaccinated yet,” she said. “The vaccine is for adults, and so when we can get children vaccinated, we have to move forward in the same way we did last summer.”

When Camp North Star in Poland opened last summer, the camp finished the season COVID-19 free and gave parents confidence in the organization. He said North Star’s success last year was due to management, staff, campers and parents.

“We’re going to be limiting our numbers again this summer a bit,” said camp director and owner Steven Bernstein. “But more importantly, we are following very good public health guidelines in terms of social distancing and keeping campers in small groups.”

He says he understands why some families won’t send their kids to camp.

“Unfortunately we have campers who cannot attend for medical reasons – either their own or a family member who may be immunocompromised, and their doctors do not think it is safe for the child to come” , Bernstein said.

He said vaccinations are a reason for optimism, but they can also lead to a false sense of confidence.

“It’s great that staff are vaccinated,” he said. “I don’t know if many campers, if any, will be vaccinated this summer. We are not doing anything differently because some people will be vaccinated. »

Crystal Parritt, director of childcare services at Lewiston YWCA, said she’s seen more parents staying on top of finding summer camp for their children compared to last year.

“So we’ve definitely seen an increase in inquiries,” she said. “I really don’t think they’re really going to be deterred like last year or at least in the spring when we didn’t have a lot of information about it.”

Parritt said parents know the YWCA has taken precautions such as hand washing and social distancing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

COVID-19 has forced the YMCA of Auburn to forgo its traditional daycare and use a hybrid model.

“This summer we hope to have 150 children compared to 125 from the summer of 2019,” said Director of Children’s Services Jaime O’Connor. “Initially we were hoping for an even bigger number, but with the current situation, a slight increase in numbers was a better way to go with the summer ahead.”

Registration for the YMCA Summer Program is not yet open, as the Y must take a wait-and-see approach to how the new guidelines will look.

“We hope to open registrations at the end of the month,” she said. “I’m going to give some advice to parents because I know I’m also a camp parent and I’m trying to prepare for my summer for my child. But my advice to parents is please be patient with us because we are trying to plan our summer, but then we wait for news from outside partners like the CDC and the state.

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