Safety first: Summer camps in Indiana prepare to welcome kids as pandemic restrictions ease


INDIANAPOLIS — Registration for summer camps at the YMCA is filling up fast.

“We are normally pretty close to being full, and so we’re getting there this summer,” said Emily Walden, district youth and family director for the Southwest Region of Indianapolis.

At its nearly 30 locations, spots are limited at camp this year. Because the Y offers various camp experiences, ranging from its own facilities to off-site locations, capacity limits vary.

“We are running at about 75% capacity at some, 50% depending where you’re at,” Walden said.

Capacity limits are a small tier of a multi-layered mitigation strategy in combating COVID-19 at camps. The American Camp Association says last year’s data showed promise when combining several methods to keep kids and staff safe.

“You stack up wearing a mask with small groups, with physical distancing, with cleaning and disinfecting, with adapting to your program, all of these different layers, including testing this summer and vaccination opportunities for staff members. It means that you can provide a safe, fun and joyous camp experience for kids,” said ACA President and CEO Tom Rosenberg.

ACA compiled data with a panel of experts following last year’s camp programs. Rosenberg says 60% of day camps were still operating, including 18% of overnight camps.

When safety measures were followed consistently and diligently, Rosenberg says programs saw better results. However, if measures were inconsistently followed, outbreaks were more likely to happen.

“This is not our first communicable disease,” said Rosenberg. “Camps have been dealing with communicable diseases for decades, just like H1N1 in 2009 for example.”

“Around March or April of last year, we knew that we needed to provide as much granular information as we could to camp directors on how to provide, as safe as possible, day and overnight camp experiences last summer,” he added.

As interest grows for summer camp attendance, the demand for more help is also growing. That’s due to shortages in camp counselor positions.

At the Y, Walden says they’re looking for anyone, ages 16 and older. A background in education is not required.

“A lot of times, camp counselors think they need to be going into education in college or something, but there’s so many skills that they can learn.”

College students are one group Rosenberg hopes will take advantage of the openings. That’s as opportunities for paid-internships remain limited this summer.

“It teaches you time management, it teaches you conflict resolution, communication skills, problem-solving skills, things that will matter on your resume,” he said.

Though there are several positions available, organizers recommend applying sooner rather than later as training will start in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, programs, like the Y, are still looking forward to safely welcoming kids this summer.

“We want kids to feel comfortable at camp and give them a place to still learn, and grow, outside of the classroom and gain that camp experience,” Walden said, “and so that was not something we were willing to give up.”

For job postings, visit the YMCA jobs tab or American Camp Association website.

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