One year later, summer camps return with new adjustments for campers

Days filled with waterfront activities, more duct tape wallets than imaginable, and songs by the bonfire are some of the many memorable aspects of summer camp. But with the COVID-19 pandemic, camps have been forced to shut down or dramatically alter their itineraries, causing the disruption of cherished summers of eager campers and now hesitant parents.

Pioneer junior Bella Weier has also been a camper of several YMCA programs in the past including Camp Burkett and Camp Al-Gon-Quian and is returning this summer to Al-Gon-Quian as a junior staff member. 

For Weier, becoming a counselor after seven years as a camper was an easy decision.

“It’s been one of my dreams to work at AGQ for a very long time. I’ve always looked up to the staff there and wanted to spread the positive influence that they did,” she said. 

Weier applied as a counselor in training (CIT) last year, but due to Covid, she was unable to go. However, in February, she got hired as a junior staff member and is super excited to be working this summer!

Weier stressed how much her summers at camp positively affected her as a person while she was growing up.

“I’ve learned to be forgiving, kind, and that I shouldn’t be afraid of being weird or loud or ‘too much.’ [AGQ] boosted my confidence a lot to be around so many strong women without the outside influence of social media and beauty standards,” said Weier. “It was a place where I could be a kid and do what I was passionate about without being judged. I’ve made so many friends there that I wouldn’t ever have met without camp, and I am eternally grateful for it.”

Pioneer junior  Solomon Bernstein, a long time camper and junior counselor at Camp Raanana Camp Young Judaea Midwest this upcoming summer, also stressed the importance of summer camp for young developing kids.

“As a counselor, I can tell that camp has a huge impact on young campers who would miss their friends during the summer. They have the opportunity to make friends, be themselves, and relax in a way that’s impossible during school,” he said. “Anything is better than staying home and not talking to friends and socialization is extremely important.”

With vaccines not approved yet for those under the age of 16, camp may seem like a dangerous breeding ground for germs and transmitting infections with too much physical contact. With these concerns in mind, many parents have chosen to opt their kids out of the few camps that remained open last summer.

However, as the pandemic is dragging on through a second summer, many camps are finding ways to safely reopen and limit exposure to COVID-19 while keeping the magic of camp alive. 

With a successful camp season last year, Bernstein expects Raanana to have similar safety protocols in place this upcoming summer. A few of the measures he mentioned that they had implemented last year included mandatory hand washing after every activity, masks at all times, no hugging allowed, and all necessary physical touch like sunscreen application had to be done with gloves. 

Since Camp Al-Gon-Quian is a sleep-away camp, procedures are a little different. Weier said that, “Camp AGQ is expected to have several covid safety precautions and health screenings in place, along with vaccines being very highly encouraged among staff and campers. In advance of camp sessions, campers and staff will likely be required to quarantine and test negative for COVID.”

And as far as the day to day structure of camp, she said that, “Activities will be held in smaller groups, and will be held outside if possible. Cabins will be grouped together into cohorts for activities to reduce the exposure to illness. And meals will be eaten outside whenever possible, with masks being required during most activities.”

With all these safety precautions in mind along with dedicated and compassionate staff, Weier and Bernstein say that camp remains a viable option for students of all ages to engage in social activities during the summer.

“I highly recommend that every kid try going to a sleep-away camp at least once, when they feel safe doing so,” Weier said. “You will make the best memories of your life, and even though it can be a scary thing at first because you’re living with strangers, after a while, those strangers become practically family.”