October 23, 2021

A different kind of summer

Cortland County camps prep using COVID precautions

Valerie Puma/staff reporter

YMCA Summer Camp Director Maddy Zimmer sets up the rock climbing wall, an activity making a comeback this summer for campers.

After a year of COVID-19 restrictions, online classes and time spent stuck at home, parents are registering their kids for summer camp to get some fresh air and have fun with their friends.

Summer camps across Cortland County are preparing for a different summer than past years, featuring social distancing, mask wearing and hand sanitizing.

“This is a huge summer for our community’s youth to finally be able to interact with each other in a physical setting,” said Darius Stevens, director of Cornell Cooperative Extension’s 4-H Camp Owahta. Camps will let kids focus on peer interactions, social emotional development and new routines, activities, cultures and ways of life.

SUNY Cortland and the J.M. McDonald Sports Complex both offer sports-centric summer camps, as is the Cortland YMCA along with its 10 weeks of day camp sessions. More day camp opportunities are available through the Cortland YWCA and the Lime Hollow Nature Center.

“It’s important to have camps when parents choose child care because it’s a much healthier day for the child,” said Jaclyn Lawrence, assistant athletic director at SUNY Cortland. “Being active and learning new skills — whether it’s a sports camp, art camp, wilderness camp — it’s always the right option.”

Getting the kids outside in the fresh air away from their screens is something Lawrence said she’s looking forward to. Camp Owahta’s director said the outdoor experience is especially important after a year when many families were confined to their homes.

“This may be the first time in over a year that parents and guardians have time away from their youth since the COVID-19 pandemic, which may be uncomfortable for some parents and guardians or for children to get out of their comfort zone,” Stevens said. “But I believe this will also be a great opportunity for each party to grow.”

Camp ARCO invites children ages 5 through 17 who have developmental disabilities to sign up for a week of a camp of their choice in Cortland County. Each camper works with an Arc staff member, receiving one-on-one support.

“We assist the family with registering and the Arc covers the cost of camp — this is a grant-based program,” said Jessica Watkins, director of program services for Camp ARCO. “The child (and) staff completes all of the camp activities, but if the child gets overwhelmed, doesn’t want to participate, etc., the staff will be with them to provide the necessary support and possibly be able to do a different activity.”

In the past, ARCO campers have chosen to attend Camp Owahta, Lime Hollow, YMCA, YWCA, J.M. McDonald, the Cortland Repertory Theatre and the Cheerful and Creative art studio.

“Camp ARCO not only provides the child with a week of fun, but we also provide the family some respite,” Watkins said. “This has been a long year for everyone and we’re excited that camps are up and running to allow the children to have some fun this summer.”

Some of the day camps, including Camp ARCO and Camp Owahta, will administer health screenings to campers at the start of each day, including COVID-19 screening questions and temperature checks. For overnight camps, a recent negative COVID test may be required for the child to attend camp. Camps for older kids, like SUNY Cortland’s sports camp for high schoolers, are encouraging campers to be fully vaccinated before their session.

Camp Owahta’s summer camp staff will assign campers to cohort teams, so they can socialize without masks while in a smaller group.

“All these children have been isolated for the past year, and for some of them this is really the first opportunity to interact with each other,” Stevens said. “So, it will really help these children with their social development and peer interaction.”