Camp Kroc returns fun to kids’ COVID-interrupted lives

Jun 8, 2020 | by Brad Rowland

Camp Kroc returns fun to kids' COVID-interrupted lives

By: David Ibata

Historically, the end of the school year brings a transition to a summer of fun, fellowship and Bible learning for children as The Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Centers launch their summer day camps. But how to do it in this COVID-19 year?

The answer is a combination of things: ensuring ample space between groups of children, scheduling activities so not too many campers are in the same place at the same time, and lots and lots of disinfectants. No question, though – where it's possible to safely do so, Camp Kroc will happen.

That means specialty camps with cooking classes, sports training, music and arts, water play and silly games, said Melissa Williams, territorial marketing manager for the Kroc Centers in the South.

"Especially now, given the uncertain times, Camp Kroc will help families provide a safe environment for their children to socialize and build friendships – and get the wiggles out, while they're at it."

Day camps began June 1 at the Kroc Centers in Augusta, Georgia, and Biloxi, Mississippi, and will begin June 15 in Memphis, Tennessee, and Greenville, South Carolina.

"The whole reason we opened camps and are doing our best to follow the public health guidelines is to help our kids, to give them hope and normalcy and a little bit of fun this summer," said Morgan Shiyou, marketing coordinator for the Mississippi Gulf Coast Area Command.

"A lot of fun has been canceled. We're trying to bring that back."

Some protocols are common across the Kroc Centers, such as taking everyone's temperature and making sure they're symptom-free as they arrive; having children wash their hands before entering the building; and separating kids into small groups of no more than nine or 10 plus a counselor. Any child or staff member who falls ill is immediately separated from the others and sent home.

Every Kroc Center also has trained its staff in heightened cleaning procedures – sanitizing a room or play area every time one group of children leaves, and the entire facility several times a day.

Augusta has designated specific times campers can use the swimming pool; and has set up a car line for no-contact drop-offs and pick-ups of campers. Memphis is keeping its building at half capacity for summer camp use and half capacity for fitness use during the weeks of camp. Greenville is utilizing its soccer fields and basketball court for camp so children have more space to spread out. Augusta and Greenville are allowing only 20 campers a week.

Biloxi has reduced the size of its summer camp, from 200 registrations typically by the end of the season to no more than 80; and its camp hours from 14 to 11 hours a day. It is unable this year to offer before-camp and after-camp programs for families, a convenience for parents who have to be at work early in the morning and can't leave until late in the afternoon.

"There's no free-for-all play any more" – no more Hula Hoops, scooters and balls kids can play with and then pass along to others, Shiyou said. "Our activities are with items that can be easily cleaned after the children are done playing with them. For example, every room has a deck of Uno cards. As soon as the kids are done, the cards are sanitized, and the deck stays in that room."

"Our counselors have to wear face masks in front of the kids, and some of the kids are wearing masks, too," Shiyou said. "Every room has a sanitizing station with wipes, sprays and hand sanitizers. We're encouraging kids to keep their own areas clean; and as they finish, adults come in to clean."

The Biloxi Kroc Center is now working with outside vendors to see if field trips can be arranged to a bowling alley and a skating rink. Later this summer, it plans to offer specialty camps for basketball, volleyball, music, theater and fine arts. "But everything is still very fluid due to COVID-19, and we're trying to accommodate our kids and our community as best as possible," Shiyou said.

Is there now a "new normal" for day camps because of the coronavirus? Williams thinks there is.

"Regardless whether the virus returns or not, the entire world is going to constantly be operating on a cautious level, and the Kroc Centers will have to be a safe place in all this," she said. "We will have to revamp a lot of policies and procedures to be respectful of what has happened and what could happen and to be better prepared for the next time."

The year 2020, Williams said, "has marked a year of change, and the Kroc Centers will remain a safe place in our communities for members and guests to bring their families."

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