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Summer camps make plans around pandemic

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Kenai Watershed Forum
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Usually, June is a hopping month on the Kenai Peninsula, packed with festivals, fun runs, and summer camps. This year, most of them are limited, cancelled or postponed. But there are still a few options for parents looking to get their kids outside into the sunshine.

Solid Rock Bible Camp outside Soldotna is pressing on with its summer camps, including overnights. The camp organizers are trying to include as much of the normal camp experience as they can, but that doesn’t mean it’s entirely business as usual. Courtney Proctor, a spokesperson for the camp, said there will be some changes, like doing more things outside and keeping group games smaller.

“So we’re just taking every piece of the camp experience and saying how can we make this work, what are we going to change, what are we going to leave the same?" she said. "Another area we’re targeting is the really big group games where everybody is going after the same ball or the same obstacle. But there is so much we can do within the guidelines that are given to us for best practices. And we are already looking at spending so much time outdoors, recreating on the lake, horseback, and anything that allows for distancing and enjoying the outdoors.”

Solid Rock has been around since 1959 and hosts campers from all over the peninsula, and occasionally some from Anchorage, the Mat-Su, or Prince William Sound. Proctor said they didn’t want to do entirely day camps because of how spread out the communities are—it’d be hard for all the parents to bring their campers every day.

One of the major aspects of overnight camps is the relationship building that happens among campers and staff. Proctor said the camp didn’t want to give that up, especially when so many kids have been isolated for so long.

“From my perspective, the recommendations released by the CDC—they don’t consider the social-emotional and friendship-building side of camp," she said. "So that’s really going to depend on what our group sizes end up being.”

The state has issued recommendations for how to operate day camps safely, including keeping groups of kids to 10 or less and not mixing groups, social distancing, and explaining the health guidelines to kids in an age-appropriate way. Solid Rock plans to clean everything thoroughly, move some activities around and ask parents to keep sick campers home. If someone does get sick, Proctor said they have an isolation area where they can separate an employee or camper until they can get treatment.

Not all camps have been able to go back to in-person. Some have cancelled out right, like the Kenai Peninsula Sports Camp in Soldotna; others are holding out and waiting to see what the next month or so brings. The Kenai Watershed Forum, for example, has cancelled its June day camps in Soldotna but is waiting a few weeks to see if the July camps can go forward.

The Boys and Girls Club of the Kenai Peninsula usually runs day camps in Kenai, Soldotna and Nikiski, hosted at the local schools. They originally aimed for a June 1 opening, but that’s not going to happen at this point. Rachel Chaffee, the executive director, said they’re reevaluating every few days and working with the school district to determine when it will be safe to open.

In the meantime, Boys and Girls Club staff is busy working on virtual programming, offering videos on everything from art projects to LEGO STEM construction programs. Chaffee said the club has had to furlough some staff, but they’ve tried to keep people on, especially those doing the club’s meal service, which is where they get the most interaction with the kids and their families.

“We’re able to see a lot of the youth that comes to the program and their families, because they’re coming to pick up the meals, so we’re able to see them, which is really nice," she said. "We do have some phone call follow-ups, but we received some feedback that they were just inundated with calls, so we backed off from that a little bit to not overwhelm our families. But we are keeping in touch, and again, a lot of that is coming through the meal service program.”

Chaffee said they’re not sure when the clubs will reopen, but they’re hoping to get things going and keep working with the school district to use their regular school spaces. They are planning to reopen the Kenai Rec Center, which the Boys and Girls Club also administers, on July 1, with capacity limits and other restrictions, such as no public locker rooms.

The Challenger Learning Center is taking a blended approach. For now, they have one in-person camp planned at the facility in July, with both day and overnight options. Executive Director Marnie Olcott said they may cancel the overnight option depending on the situation with the pandemic and local cases, but for now, they’re tentatively planning it. They have other virtual camps planned as well. Olcott said materials will be sent out to campers so they can participate.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@kdll.org.

Elizabeth Earl is the news reporter/evening host for summer 2021 at KDLL. She is a high school teacher, with a background writing for the Peninsula Clarion and has been a freelance contributor to several publications in Alaska.
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