Long anticipated: A successful start to summer camp 2021
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Camper enjoys the classic outdoor summer pairing of popsicle sticks and beading at J&R Day Camp. Photo courtesy of Emma Curtis via Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh
Emma Curtis via Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh. Can't beat the classic outdoor summer pairing of popsicle sticks and beading at J&R Day Camp
COVID-19Sunny days, big smiles

Long anticipated: A successful start to summer camp 2021

Warm days and lots of laughter, welcome back

Main image by Emma Curtis via Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh. Can't beat the classic outdoor summer pairing of popsicle sticks and beading at J&R Day Camp

If a picture is worth a thousand words then stop reading and just look at the photos (but please come back afterward).

Summer 2021 is underway and campers and staff are thrilled to be back outdoors in the settings they love.

Speaking from Morgantown, West Virginia, Emma Kaufmann Camp Director Aaron Cantor described the first week of camp as “phenomenal.”

“If you would have told me a few months ago that things would be going like they are right now in camp, I would have been like, ‘You’re lying,’” said Cantor. “I really could not have asked for a better start to this summer.”

Emma Kaufmann Camp staff give a thumbs up to the start of summer. Photo courtesy of Emma Curtis via the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh

EKC’s first session began on June 20, but families were asked to prepare even earlier, with campers required to quarantine 8-10 days before their arrival. Additionally, each camper and staff member had to take a PCR COVID-19 test 3-5 days prior to the start of camp and share the results with camp officials — only campers and staff who provided negative test results from a PCR test were permitted to enter EKC. Finally, five days after arrival, everyone got tested for COVID-19 again, and on June 29, when Cantor learned that all the tests had come back negative, he was reassured that EKC could look forward to a more typical summer.

Even so, as an added precaution, no one will be allowed in or out of EKC. Because camp is functioning as “a bubble,” said Cantor, podding will be expanded and larger groups of campers can begin interacting with one another.

Fun in the sun while sliding at J&R Day Camp. Photo courtesy of Emma Curtis via the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh

All three of Casey Drucker’s children are at EKC this summer. Drucker, a Fox Chapel resident, said that even before receiving news of the camp-wide negative tests, she was confident in EKC’s and the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh’s ability to handle whatever challenges the pandemic posed.

“They did an amazing job making sure parents and kids were comfortable,” she said.

Likewise, leading up to the June 21 start of Camp Gan Israel of Pittsburgh, Rabbi Elchonon Friedman was constantly communicating with parents, medical professionals and staff about COVID-19 protocols. From those conversations as well as guidance from the state, Friedman — who serves as rabbi of Bnai Emunoh Chabad in Greenfield and director of Gan Israel —
developed a pandemic plan, which includes parents completing daily COVID questionnaires.

Even with a reliable plan in place, months of shifting statewide regulations made preparing for summer 2021 challenging, said Friedman. And, because Gan Israel is a day camp — as opposed to a “sealed” overnight environment — “every day kids are coming from different homes and going to different homes,” he said.

As part of Gan Israel’s pandemic plan, and in order to mitigate risk, campers are podded. Keeping small groups separate from one another ensures that in case of a COVID-positive test, the likelihood of spread decreases, Friedman said.

Fun and friendship is underway at Emma Kaufmann Camp. Photo courtesy of Emma Curtis via the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh

Rabbi Sam Weinberg, Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh’s principal, said that risk mitigation strategies have been discussed since the start of the pandemic, well before the June 28 start of Camp Hillel. Frequent conversations with Hillel Academy’s medical advisory team enabled students to safely enjoy in-person instruction during the past school year and will now allow campers to experience a “fun and adventurous summer,” said Weinberg.

“For our campers and staff, safety was the number one concern,” he said, “but we also wanted to make sure that everyone could create memories that would last a lifetime.”

Rachael Speck, director of JCC Day Camps, agreed that the past 16 months offered valuable lessons when it came to preparing for this summer. Along with operating a full program last summer, during which there were no COVID-positive cases at camp, she said the JCC successfully ran its All Day at the J program throughout the school year, with only a few COVID-positive cases and no spread.

Prior to the start of its programming for summer 2021, the JCC “pressure tested” every aspect of camp. And although campers will be in close contact with fellow members of their cohort, “we are putting extra measures in place,” Speck said.

Along with masking and distancing, campers at James & Rachel Levinson Day Camp are grouped together in small cohorts. Additionally, Speck said, “an adjusted daily schedule allows for extra time for hand sanitizing between activities.”

Zach Binder enjoys the pool at J&R Day Camp. Photo courtesy of Rachel Firestone

Point Breeze resident Rachel Firestone has two sons at J&R Day Camp, and she praised the JCC’s ability to deliver safe and meaningful summer experiences. Between the health questionnaires parents must complete each morning, and the daily temperature checks each camper receives prior to boarding the bus to camp, Firestone said she is assured the JCC is committed to keeping people safe.

“This is what we expect from the JCC, and why in the community they are so trusted,” she said.

Families have placed a lot of confidence in summer camps this year, according to Gan Israel’s Friedman, and he said that the planning, protocols and current requirements to keep camp COVID-free are well worth the cost.

“Being together with people again is just amazing to see,” he said. “People forget how amazing it is to be social. Getting it back is important.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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