By Noah Greif
In the unknown, ever-changing world we now live in with COVID-19, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Stoneham & Wakefield provides a safe, different yet creative and fun summer of programming.
To create a functional environment for children to safely attend summer camp, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Stoneham & Wakefield took a proactive approach. This process began by ensuring the desire for childcare in the community. The Clubs sent out a parent questionnaire in early May, and the overwhelming response was that families were still in need of care for their children over the summer.
“There are a lot of families in our communities, especially those that have unfortunate circumstances economically or situations where [parents] have to go to work, so they have to rely on us for care. We never want to abandon those families,” said Adam Rodgers, Chief Executive Officer of the club. “I wouldn’t open if we didn’t think it was safe, but at the same time we knew if we didn’t open, there would be kids who wouldn’t have a safe place to go.”
After the Baker-Polito Administration announced summer camps could reopen in Phase 2 beginning on June 8th, the club began to utilize regulations from other states and organizations such as the Massachusetts emergency childcare, New Hampshire childcare, and the American Camp Association.
“We used different resources from different organizations — basically anything we could get our hands on initially, plus what we already knew about standard regulations. This helped us put together a plan on what we thought the regulations could look like if we could reopen,” said John Brinkman, the club’s Chief Program Officer. “That gave us a massive head start because we were able to fine-tune those plans. Once the regulations came out, they were pretty much in tune with what we had. We had to make very minor adjustments as opposed to having to redo everything at once.”
The camp now runs on about 40% to 50% capacity with around 130 kids a day. Regulations include campers being in small groups of around 10 people, wearing masks all day, and remaining six feet apart. The dropoff and pickup processes have also been modified to be efficient and contactless where families remain in the car, and after a COVID-19 screening questionnaire, the child exits the car and finds their assigned counselor. Any child who has symptoms of COVID-19 is not allowed to come to camp for 24 hours, and new staff have been hired at each location to clean bathrooms and high-contact surfaces throughout the day.
Despite the restrictions, both the clubs in Wakefield and Stoneham have created a fun, safety-first experience for campers through partnerships with local parks. Unless there is extreme heat or rain, the camp is held at Moulton Park in Wakefield and Recreation Park in Stoneham.
Wakefield Club Director Joey D’Alessandro and Stoneham Club Director Brianna Dunn have modified traditional activities such as dodgeball or “noodle tag” to keep physical distancing in mind. Instead of the traditional dodgeball with a centerline, there are two lines, spaced out six feet apart. Each team has its own set of balls, and can only touch their dodgeballs, or they are out and then must sanitize their hands. Instead of throwing the ball back to get someone out, the team must kick the ball with their foot. Stoneham has diversified their programming with theme weeks such as movies, Olympics, and under the sea.
For Megan Samborski, the parent of campers Lily and Molly, ages 7 and 5 respectively, the club has helped ease her kids back into socializing safely. “For Molly, it’s been a great experience because she’s going to be going into kindergarten. Just to have some more social interaction, she really enjoyed being around some kids again, even though it looked a lot different. She was happy with the ability to socialize again,” said Samborski. “These kids were not seeing friends for months at a time, so I think that was helpful for her. The variety of programming they were able to still provide during the day, even though there’s a lot of limits now, was great.”
While the camp has been a return to normalcy for both children and parents, the universal message across the staff and leadership at the club has been “safety is our number priority.” Counselors have played a large role in ensuring the campers’ safety, and have had both virtual and later in-person training to learn about the virus in-depth and deal with the difficult questions campers may have.
“The counselors have to be up to speed with all the protocols and are ready and willing to clean and sanitize any surface that we have here,” said Wakefield Club Director, Joey D’Alessandro. “Everyone that’s here is dialed in, dedicated, and determined.”