Opinion | How to Save Summer Camps During the Coronavirus

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Imagine this: Just over the horizon, deep purple and orange skies, the sun setting behind emerald-green mountains. You and your partner are sitting close together, listening to the campfire musicians, while your children roast s’mores in the distance. You’re not even paying that much attention to them now — that’s what the summer camp counselors are for. Instead you’re sharing a laugh, about how terrible you were at rock climbing earlier that day. Those are exactly the kinds of restorative moments a family retreat at summer camp can provide.

Across the country, thousands of sleepaway summer camps face financial catastrophe because of the coronavirus pandemic. Many are weighing how, or even if, to open this summer. To meet the twin problems of potential financial demise and providing overstressed families some relief, we have a solution: Turn camps into family retreats. At Blue Star Camps, a Jewish sleepaway camp in Hendersonville, N.C., founded in 1948 for children ages 6 to 16, we will be doing just that as part of our creative plan for operating. We believe that if camps across the country announce similar plans, camps will be saved not just for this summer, but for many summers to come.

We believe that summer camps heal and strengthen social bonds, and therefore provide a vital service during these stressful times. While we cannot predict exactly what the state of public health will be in our home state or other states during the summer months, we do know that families are yearning for safe outdoor spaces where their children can feel free again. We know that camps have always been those safe spaces. By opening cabins to entire families, camps can provide the same invigorating social connections and memorable moments for parents and their families as they always have for kids.

Many parents feel acutely overstretched right now. We struggle to balance professional obligations, teaching and caring for our kids, and checking in on our own parents and loved ones. We battle the barrage of noise — breaking news, anxiety about when our local stay-at-home orders might lift to that next phase, the latest presidential tweet. And we experience fewer of those “silver lining” moments that in the pre-pandemic days restored our sanity.

Emerging research shows that the Covid-19 pandemic has begun to increase anxiety levels across the population. According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, nearly half of those polled in the United States report that the pandemic has adversely affected their mental health.


By Seth Herschthal

2020-05-25 05:00:17

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