For some, the camp will go on

YMCA, River­side Out­fit­ters pro­ceed­ing with plans amid pan­demic; Richmond, oth­ers still de­cid­ing

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - LIVING - BY COLLEEN CUR­RAN Richmond Times-Dis­patch

Sum­mer in Vir­ginia usu­ally means sum­mer camp for kids.

But with the coro­n­avirus still a threat, some busi­nesses still closed and re­stric­tions on so­cial gath­er­ings chang­ing, this year looks like it’s shap­ing up to be a sum­mer like no other.

Ash­ley Gray had been plan­ning to send her 10-year-old daugh­ter, Char­lotte, to Camp Friend­ship, a sleep­over camp in Flu­vanna for the first time. But once Richmond schools shut down in March, she knew that sum­mer camp was prob­a­bly can­celed, too.

“I was plan­ning to cancel, but the camp can­celed all their sum­mer ses­sions be­fore I got around to it,” Gray said. “Char­lotte is very dis­ap­pointed camp is can­celed ... [but] she saw it com­ing and wasn’t shocked.”

Now, the ques­tions for par­ents and sum­mer camps are many: Will sum­mer camps be able to open? What will they look like? And if they do, will par­ents feel safe send­ing their kids?

A spokes­woman for Gov. Ralph Northam, Alena Yar­mosky, said guid­ance spe­cific to sum­mer camps is forth­com­ing, al­though it’s un­clear ex­actly when.

Without spe­cific guide­lines for sum­mer camp in place, many have been try­ing to come up with their own safety pro­to­cols, post­pon­ing plans un­til that guid­ance is re­ceived or de­cid­ing to cancel their camps for the sum­mer.

The city of Richmond’s Parks and Re­cre­ation won’t be de­cid­ing un­til mid-June whether to host its pop­u­lar sum­mer camp this year. Last year, the pro­gram served over 1,000 kids in the city’s 10-plus com­mu­nity cen­ters.

Ch­ester­field County Parks and Re­cre­ation also says it won’t de­cide un­til some­time this month. Hen­rico County Re­cre­ation and Parks has can­celed all pro­grams through June 12 and is wait­ing for guid­ance as to when — or if — it can re­turn to nor­mal op­er­a­tions.

Other sum­mer day camps from the YMCA, like the pop­u­lar out­door Camp Thun­der­bird, will be held this sum­mer, as well as out­door camps at River­side Out­fit­ters.

“We are plan­ning to open nine camps by June 15,” said Ja­son Ching, camp op­er­a­tions di­rec­tor for the YMCA. “We found a lot of suc­cess with Camp Hope, our child care for es­sen­tial work­ers [which served 412 chil­dren]. We’re plan­ning to fol­low some of those ex­tra health pre­cau­tions like tak­ing tem­per­a­tures for the chil­dren and staff ev­ery day, hav­ing the chil­dren wash their hands be­fore join­ing their group and keep­ing chil­dren in the same group dur­ing the

On May 28, Ana Leahy (left), Atarah-Sheba Young and Ja­son Ching, camp op­er­a­tions di­rec­tor for the YMCA, pre­pared for Camp Thun­der­bird by mark­ing off ar­eas to per­mit so­cial dis­tanc­ing. day.”

Camp Hanover, a Chris­tian day and overnight camp in Hanover, an­nounced in mid-May its de­ci­sion to sus­pend all camps.

“Un­der the cur­rent con­di­tions, we be­lieve hav­ing camp would be ir­re­spon­si­ble. It would be a vi­o­la­tion of the trust you place in us,” the camp posted to its web­site.

The Richmond SPCA has can­celed its in­door Crit­ter Camp; Sabot at Stony Point has can­celed all sum­mer camps; Hanover County camps have been post­poned in­def­i­nitely; and the Vis­ual Arts Cen­ter of Richmond has can­celed all on-site ArtVen­ture classes due to COVID-19.

The YMCA is mov­ing full steam ahead with its nine sum­mer camps. Un­der

Phase Two guide­lines, the YMCA said it is able to op­er­ate its day camps as child care for fam­i­lies.

It has part­nered with the Amer­i­can Camp­ing As­so­ci­a­tion to come up with stan­dard pro­ce­dures and guide­lines, in ac­cor­dance with the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion, for the day camps.

In ad­di­tion to the al­ready men­tioned pre­cau­tions, here are a few ex­am­ples of what those ex­tra safety pre­cau­tions will look like:

Campers will be re­quired to wear a mask on the bus to camp.

Only one child per seat; sib­lings can sit to­gether.

Chil­dren will be in the same group dur­ing the day. The ra­tio of staff to campers will be 1 to 9, keep­ing each group at 10 or un­der.

Large group gath­er­ings will be avoided.

Games with phys­i­cal con­tact will not be played.

Equip­ment and touch points will be wiped down on a reg­u­lar ba­sis through­out the day.

“We’re try­ing to of­fer as many pro­grams and ac­tiv­i­ties as we can within the guide­lines to cre­ate a fun and en­gag­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” Ching said. “Camp is a so­cial at­mos­phere. We want to make sure they’re hav­ing the best time pos­si­ble be­ing out­doors and in na­ture while tak­ing ex­tra health pre­cau­tions.”

The pools at YMCA camps will not open for the im­me­di­ate fu­ture, but the zi­pline and Alpine Tower at Camp Thun­der­bird will be open. Other ac­tiv­i­ties like archery, hik­ing, and arts and crafts will be of­fered. Groups will be lim­ited to 10 or fewer, and campers will stay in their groups.

Campers over age 10 will be re­quired to wear masks while in­side the YMCA. Staff will be re­quired to wear masks while on the bus, speak­ing with par­ents and in­side the YMCA.

“I’m ex­cited for the campers to be out­side and in na­ture,” Ching said. “Our goal

Af­ter send­ing the Face­book post, they knelt for a prayer and then di­aled in to a Zoom call with a fam­ily. A sim­i­lar scene is play­ing out world­wide as re­as­signed mis­sion­ar­ies nav­i­gate new re­al­i­ties.

In Or­lando, Fla., Bella McCain and Madi­son King hold a What­sApp video call with a fam­ily they have been teach­ing church doc­trine. They in­vite the fam­ily to take the sacra­ment for the first time and fol­low up on an ear­lier pro­posal: forgo cof­fee, a key part of the faith’s health code, which also bans al­co­hol and to­bacco.

The hus­band and wife had dif­fer­ent out­comes: She says she found it dif­fi­cult but would like to work on it. He says he’d given it up.

On Face­book, McCain and King craft a mes­sage in Portuguese, the lan­guage they learned for their orig­i­nal as­sign­ments in Brazil. They also text peo­ple ask­ing to set up a call to talk about the church.

It’s a far cry from just months ago. In Brazil, McCain largely spoke to peo­ple face to face.

“Some­times we feel like pioneers,” said McCain, a 19-year-old from Texas. “We’re not used to us­ing so­cial me­dia in this way and, like, I never made videos and posted them on­line be­fore . ... We’re all learn­ing, and it’s re­ally in­ter­est­ing and re­ally fun.”

The church be­gan in­cor­po­rat­ing on­line faith out­reach when it gave some mis­sion­ar­ies tablets six years ago. It’s since made tech­nol­ogy more preva­lent, giv­ing most mis­sion­ar­ies smart­phones even be­fore the pan­demic, Niel­son said.

A more on­line-based ap­proach would be a ma­jor shift and could di­min­ish the ap­peal for some young church mem­bers who crave an en­rich­ing cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ence, said

Ryan Cra­gun, a so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Tampa who spe­cial­izes in re­li­gion and The Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter­day Saints. The time in the com­mu­nity also breaks up the drudgery, said Cra­gun, a for­mer church mem­ber who served a mis­sion in Costa Rica.

“There’s this quasi-tourist ex­pe­ri­ence of go­ing to these cool places, but there is also the con­nec­tion you get to the peo­ple,” Cra­gun said. “That’s prob­a­bly one of the more mean­ing­ful things that hap­pens.”

The virus forced church of­fi­cials to scram­ble for flights to get mis­sion­ar­ies home from far-flung coun­tries like Ethiopia, Aus­tralia and Viet­nam. But Niel­son said the church never wa­vered in keep­ing the pro­gram go­ing.

It shows the im­por­tance the church places on shar­ing its gospel.

About 5,000 mis­sion­ar­ies who were brought home have been sent out again in the United States.

Thou­sands more are head­ing out soon. The church gave them the op­tion to wait a year, but the large ma­jor­ity chose to start again now, Niel­son said.

Mis­sions, which last two years for men and 18 months for women, are as much about lock­ing in young church mem­bers for life as con­vert­ing oth­ers, Cra­gun said. The av­er­age num­ber of peo­ple con­verted per mis­sion­ary has risen slightly in the past three years, to 3.7, but is still less than the av­er­age of five in the pre­vi­ous decade, church fig­ures show.

Niel­son said the pan­demic has made peo­ple hun­gry for the mis­sion­ar­ies’ mes­sage of hope.

“There’s never been a time when more peo­ple have wanted to know about re­li­gion than there is now,” Niel­son said. “Peo­ple search­ing for peace. Peo­ple search­ing for answers. Peo­ple search­ing for some­one to talk to. It’s been an in­cred­i­ble thing.”

ALEXA WELCH ED­LUND/TIMES-DIS­PATCH

Matt Perry, co-owner and pres­i­dent of River­side Out­fit­ters, which was closed dur­ing part of the pan­demic, san­i­tized an oar on May 28 in prepa­ra­tion for re­open­ing the next day.

MARK GORMUS/TIMES-DIS­PATCH

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