Summer camps planning for 2021 season

Local News

(WSYR-TV) — After nearly a year of looking at a computer and staying home for many children, some could see a break in that pattern this summer with play and social interaction at a summer camp.

Organizations are planning for that right now, including one of the largest camps in Central New York, the Syracuse Jewish Community Center (JCC). Last year, the folks at JCC were one of the first to reopen its day camp, and they’re now hoping for a June 28th start date.

This is all coming after an announcement from Gov. Cuomo this week, who said overnight camps will be allowed to reopen this summer, after being closed last year. Day camps, though, were allowed to operate in 2020. With this announcement, day camps are assuming this also means they’re getting the “A-OK” to reopen.

In the summer of 2020, JCC began with its early childhood program. Then, in July, they started day camp, which is later than usual. Instead of looking after nearly 200 kids each week, 60 children would come to campus each day. The parents were asked to stick to drop-offs and pickups only, meaning they couldn’t get out of the car and walk their children up to the door. As soon as the kids got out, they washed their hands and joined their cohort for the day, which included 15 people.

Marci Erlebacher, the Executive Director at JCC, said the plans for that program started back in April, even before they got the go-ahead.

“Any Zoom session, anything that we could get our hands on, written material, talking to the county continuously, talking to our licensers about how to handle this, what would the protocols be,” Erlebacher said.

Erlebacher said the drop-off method was key, and the kids got health checks every day. They went the whole summer without a single COVID case.

“We did it. We had a very safe environment. People started seeing that, parents started seeing that, they started getting comfortable, and yes, we picked up by the end of the summer, which helped going into the fall,” Erlebacher said.

It was a different story for Lourdes Camp in Skaneateles. The director there, Michael Preston, said they chose not to open for the first time in the camp’s 78-year history.

“New York State didn’t allow resident camps to run and when they came out with their guidelines for day camps, we just weren’t comfortable,” Preston said.

Preston and his staff watched and learned as other places opened up. They took the time to get used to the guidelines and make some much-needed renovations to the campgrounds. They took down a couple of cabins that needed work, replacing one with an arts and crafts building. They also worked on the chapel and painted it.

After the Governor’s announcement, they’re more than ready to reopen for sleepaway and day camps for the summer of 2021.

“I mean, it’s one thing that’s kind of normal in kids’ lives. They’ve been to camp or they want to go to camp or mom or dad have been to camp, so, it’s something that they can identify with and they really need it, I think, now especially. And of course, our staff needs it and I certainly need it. We need to get back there and just do what we do and we do it well,” Preston said.

Both Preston and Erlebacher have to wait for finalized guidance from the New York State Health Department and the county health department in order to open up this summer.

Erlebacher said JCC will implement a mask mandate when the kids are inside, but whether they wear them outside is still up for debate. They’re ready for a June 28th start date. As for Lourdes Camp, they’re not opening registration until they get those guidelines from the state.

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