‘Magical experience’ alive at local camps amid pandemic protocols

Summer camp is a rite of passage for so many children. After the state entered into Phase II of reopening on June 22, camps were given the green light. Three weeks in, camps and campers alike are having fun.

Meriden’s YMCA Mountain Mist Day Outdoor Center and Summer Day Camp, Boys & Girls Club of Meriden’s Cuno Camp, as well as Girls Inc. of Meriden and Southington’s Camp Sloper, were among the facilities to open. Each report having had strong starts to the summer.

Sloper Outdoor Center director Justin Hubeny said his email inbox was flooded with compliments from pleased camper parents.

“Things have been going great,” Hubeny said. “The magical experience and excitement of camp is still there.”

Sloper, like all area camps, is taking precautions with safety procedures and cleaning. The YMCA camp is following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the American Camping Association.

“We are keeping smaller groups and all staff are wearing masks. The campers are not,” Hubeny said. “We are still doing health screening and taking temperatures of campers and staff as they arrive. We are doing more cleaning and disinfecting equipment. Some things may be a little different, but the camp magic and feel of camp is the same. We want to make sure to still have fun and it’s been successful. It’s exceeded our expectations so far.”

Sloper has seven more weeks of camp, starting Monday. Sloper has been averaging 500 campers per week and has a staff that ranges between 100 to 120 this summer.

In Meriden, Mountain Mist co-camp director Derek Destefano said “so far, so good” for campers and staff.

“We had to revamp everything and examine it and how we should do things in today’s world,” Destefano said. “We are working to do everything to make sure our kids are safe in everything we are doing. We are also making sure the counselors are safe and have all of the tools to keep everyone safe. We are providing the best place for our campers, counselors and campers’ parents for a memorable summer. Hopefully, it’s their best summer ever.”

Destefano said preparation for camp this summer took much more planning and safety precautions in following state guidelines.

“After that we have fun,” Destefano said. “We’ve had a lot of that the last few weeks.”

Campers are divided into groups of 14 and each counselor is equipped with a crate full of cleaning products that includes disinfectants and foaming hand sanitizer.

“Staff and campers are constantly cleaning,” Destefano said. “We have the cleanest camp ever.”

Mountain Mist has been averaging around 300 campers per week and that number typically peaks in the middle of the summer. In a typical year, the camp has over 400 per week.

The camp staff sits at about 60.

“We know our kids need this,” Destefano said. “We are excited every day for camp. It’s been pretty rewarding so far.”

Girls Inc. of Meriden executive director Michelle Bourdeau also said things have been going well since opening on June 22.

“Everyone has adapted really well and making the best of the summer experience,” Bourdeau said. “The silver lining is that the kids are able to reconnect with kids their age and have that social interaction.”

Girls Inc. capped its maximum number of campers at 35 per week.

“We made a conscious effort to really scale back our operations to adhere to the guidelines,” Bourdeau said. “We intentionally kept it at 35 and we are at capacity for the summer.”

For all of the area camps, masks are required for staff and optional for campers.

“We are maintaining social distancing and adhering to all of the rules and regulations and while doing that, still creating fun experiences,” Bourdeau said.

Girls Inc. completed week 3 of its nine-week summer camp on Friday.

“The first three weeks have gone really well. The kids have been very engaged and the staff has done a great job coming up with activities for the campers,” Bourdeau said. “We all needed this. before we reopened, we hadn’t had any children in the building since mid-March. It’s great to have life back in the building. We know the kids were missing their experiences as well. The laughing and smiling around the building and property has been wonderful.”

Larue Graham, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Meriden, said Cuno Camp has “gone very well” after three weeks.

“We have safeguards in place and we have beefed up the number of employees. We have two counselors for every 14 kids,” Graham said. “To date, everything has gone well. We want to give the kids the best experience they can have.”

Graham said the camp is down in numbers. They had more than 50 campers this week, which is down about 40 percent from typical summer. Those numbers are up from numbers in the 30s when the doors first opened in late June.

Graham added that Cuno is taking every precaution to keep everyone safe.

"Things have been going great. The magical experience and excitement of camp is still there."

-Camp Sloper Outdoor Center Director Justin Hubeny
With local school, politics and coronavirus news being more important now than ever, please help our newsroom deliver the coverage you deserve. Please support Local news.

More From This Section