City-run summer camps were just one of the hundreds of other slashings made by Mayor de Blasio in April as part of his efforts to mitigate pandemic-driven fiscal shortfalls, but several private organizations, like Commonpoint Queens, have full plans to continue offering camp programs to kids who have nowhere else to go this summer.
“We as a society have to take care of everyone safely that gives everyone what they need,” Melissa Algranati, Commonpoint’s Island Quest Day Camp director, told the Chronicle. “These kids have been put in a difficult situation at a young age ... Try telling a 5-year-old what social distancing is or that the things they look forward to all year are canceled ... they’re stressed.”
Commonpoint has been running emergency childcare since the beginning of the pandemic and plans to continue in the case that the regular camp season is canceled. Among other organizations, the YMCA of Greater New York closed its Sleepaway Camp for the remainder of 2020, and World of Discovery Day Camp of Bayside is waiting until around June 1 to decide whether it will open for the season. But for now Algranati says Commonpoint still has plans to open day camp because “childcare is just the reality. Parents need somewhere to bring their children.”
Island Quest Day Camp is an American Camp Association-accredited organization, and runs daily operations according to its health guidelines as well as those of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but Algranati says the parameters are changing constantly in the face of the novel virus.
“There’s something new to the story every week. We have guidelines on how to safely group kids, our staff knows how to maintain distancing,” she said. “We’re figuring the system as we’re going and ... it’s a really tricky situation. It’s like building a plane as you’re flying.”
Commonpoint traditionally opens its summer camp in early July after the holiday, which leaves some time for Algranati and her colleagues to prepare for accommodations and ACA and CDC guideline changes that may occur between now and then. In the meantime, the camp counselors have been brainstorming ways to keep camp fun and exciting for kids while still keeping it safe.
“How do you change a game [to maintain social distance]? That’s part of the challenge,” she said. “How can I imagine it in a new way that is exciting for the kids, but still consistent with health guidelines?”
Part of the solution is utilizing the outdoors, Algranati said, because it provides wider space between individuals, circulated air and healthier conditions. The health of the children is paramount to Commonpoint Queens counselors, which includes their mental health.
“The ways camps change a kid’s life in a positive way ... The learning in a classroom — it’s part of the magic that doesn’t translate virtually,” Algranati said, adding that camp subtly equips children with tools they often don’t realize they’re learning, making it a space for education and social growth rather than just a daycare.
Despite the ideal, Algranati noted that certain city directives could determine that only children of essential workers could be allowed to come to summer camp, a rule that could change every few weeks as the city progresses through the pandemic.
“Phase one, essential workers are hospital workers, phase two could be construction workers,” she said as an example. “It’s a moving target.
Although uncertainty surrounds the 2020 summer camp season, Algranati noted that she personally feels prepared to continue operations full steam ahead.
“You sign up for a job and you do what’s needed to be done,” she said. “I’m blessed to work in an environment where we’re given the tools to stay safe, so on that level I feel like I’m being taken care of.”