No school. Zero playdates. Cancelled sports activities. COVID-19 has essentially put a hold on life for our children and for us. Both children and adults are turning to technology to stay connected with one another. Summer camps, known for building close community ties and strong friendships, have taken this opportunity to create virtual summer camp activities for their campers and staff as a way to socialize and feel close to their beloved camp during this unprecedented time. From virtual dance parties to camp fires, here’s what they’re doing to keep campers connected:
Jeff Grabow, owner and director of Camp Echo, a coed overnight camp in Bloomingburg, NY, feels that camp today extends well past the seven weeks of summer and that technology has enabled Camp Echo to continue its connections year-round.
“With our current situation, camp and our relationships are more important than ever,” Grabow says. “We’ve been using social media and our website to share Tik Tok videos, Nancy Tucker live concerts, DJ Todd Yahney dance parties, online March Madness gaming competitions, funny videos and more to continue the connectivity our community shares. We feel it’s essential to keep our spirits up and to hold on to positivity.”
Camp Watitoh, a coed overnight camp in Becket, MA, is hoping its campers feel connected to their second home through their virtual activities. “We did a Facebook live concert for our campers, staff and alumni by singer/songwriter Tom Carroll who has been a camp favorite for years,” says Drew Bitterman, director of Camp Watitoh. “We’re also posting daily Bunkorama activities each day that campers can do at home from shaving cream fights to virtual visits to the nearby Norman Rockwell Museum. We feel that being able to bring a smile to the face of our campers brings some peace and calmness during this challenging time.”
Nicki Fleischner, assistant director of Camp Scatico, a brother-sister overnight camp in Elizaville, NY, is offering a variety of virtual activities including virtual novelty challenges and Art + Talent Shows. “Like so many things at camp, there are both concrete and tangible messages we are trying to convey and larger, more organic, intangibles,” Fleischer says. “On a concrete level, we are telling our community that we are here for them, that we are a resource, and that we will help them fill their days with something that sparks joy. On a macro level, our activities, just like everything at camp, are about community, connection, and trying new things.”
Reconnecting With Campers
Over the past few weeks, Fleischer says she has heard from staff members on other continents who haven’t been at camp in years, including alumni from the 1970’s. “It’s about community, the bonds and that carefree feeling of camp that connects and grounds us, especially during this tremendously disorienting time,” she adds.
And it isn’t just sleepaway camps. Day camps have also been providing virtual camp activities to their families. Todd Rothman, owner and director of Deerkill Day Camp in Suffern, NY, says they are engaging camp families and staff with virtual activities. The goal is to provide a healthy diversion while also doing their part to ensure campers, parents and staff retain a sense of community that’s so elusive now.
“Our camp offerings have been varied from word searches and community sing-a-longs for our younger campers to virtual staff lessons on juggling and the #deerkilloutfitchallenge for our older campers and staff,” Rothman says. Deerkill is also planning virtual cooking lessons, art projects and a lesson on how to apply ceramic skills to pie crusts.
“We’re also arranging Zoom meetings for each group with their group counselors from last summer to add an even more personal connection,” Rothman says. “It’s so important for campers to have a sense of normalcy right now and participating in activities with their camp friends immediately transports them to a place of happiness and provides a respite from the stress we are all feeling being homebound.”
—Jess Michaels is the director of communications for the American Camp Association (ACA), NY and NJ, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the summer camp experience.