Kids, parents rejoice as summer camps reopen
Ministries welcome campers with caution and enthusiasm
Mark Dishman’s daughter struggled with attention deficit disorder in school, and unkind students sometimes made her school days harder. But at Charis Hills, a Christian summer camp in North Texas, she experienced noncompetitive, stress-free fun: “Maybe a foretaste of shalom,” her father said.
For many children, summer camp provides a chance to deepen their faith and make friends and lifelong memories. The pandemic took away or constrained those opportunities for many youth last summer, but this year, things are starting to return to normal.
South Mountain Christian Camp in Bostic, N.C., decided to cancel all summer camps last year rather than severely limit the number of campers who could come. Some staffers came to serve anyway, working on maintenance projects and helping make about 70 videos of devotionals, nature walks, outdoor science, and silly skits to post to the camp’s Facebook page and YouTube channel. “We were able to do something for the kids, but it was still very quiet,” said guest service director Jen Collins.
South Mountain opened for in-person camp this past Sunday with a registration limited to about 60 percent capacity. Collins said parents seem more excited that camp has returned than they are concerned about COVID-19.
In Silverton, Ore., Canyonview Ministries is offering only day camps for the second year in a row. Oregon officials decided to allow overnight camps this summer but did not release the guidelines until May. Executive Director John Walker said the camp expects 1,000-1,500 children ages 6-17 throughout the summer, down from its typical 2,000-2,500. Some campers cannot come because they live too far away to make the daily drive.
“It’s pretty rare we get a parent who’s really concerned about COVID things,” said Walker, though he said the camp has heard from some parents who don’t want their child to wear a mask. Campers wear masks inside as well as outside if not social distancing, and Canyonview staff try to accommodate parents’ concerns by having most activities outdoors.
Before the pandemic, Charis Hills hosted for 50 campers ages 7-18 in each session. Last year, it operated at half capacity, and this year it has limited attendance to 40 campers per session.
Charis Hills serves children with autism or other learning differences, many of whom struggle with social cues and communication. Founder and director Colleen Southard said that, for these campers, masks can be challenging: “You might as well blindfold them.” In 2020, the camp got an exception to the state’s mask mandate because of its attendees’ special needs. This year, camp registrar Liz Austin said parents were “elated” when they learned masks were optional for campers and staff would not be wearing them.
Charis Hills staff have always encouraged handwashing and appropriate personal space, and a child cannot attend if he or she has been exposed to COVID-19. Southard said they try to find lighthearted ways to help campers stay safe, such as staff members dressing up in fun costumes and dispensing hand sanitizer.
“Our campers struggle with relationships anyway,” Southard said. “The way our families feel is the benefit that our campers get from coming and socializing far outweighs the risk of COVID.”
Dishman said Charis Hills increased his daughter’s confidence and experiential knowledge, which helped her with her schoolwork and social interactions. His daughter now works as a summer camp staffer at Charis Hills, and she convinced some of her friends to join her.
Southard said registration for Charis Hills filled earlier for this summer than ever before. “We love what we do,” she said. “The families and these campers, they need camp.”
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