The sounds of summer are back at the YMCA’s Camp Sloper in Southington.
“It feels nice to be doing other things than just sitting around at the house,” said 9-year-old Abby Pooler.
All of the regular activities returned to Camp Sloper, like climbing, splashing and paddling, helping push the pandemic a bit further from the children’s minds.
“I think they were really excited to see familiar faces that they haven’t seen in a long time that were different than their family members,” said Justin Hubeny, who runs the camp. "To see the kids come back has been really cool.”
Though, campers couldn't see the smiles on their counselors' faces, thanks to just one of the new rules welcoming campers on Monday. They also got their temperature checked and answered a brief series of questions when they arrived, like whether they’d been with someone who was sick.
Children also found new handwashing troughs as they walked from one activity to the next. Plus, nearly two-dozen hand sanitizer stations were nailed into the trees.
“Is it safe for my child to go to camp? And I’m here to say that I believe our camps have done an outstanding job following all of the guidelines,” said Mark Pooler, the Southington-Cheshire YMCA CEO.
Pooler grew up going to this camp, then spent 20 years as Camp Sloper’s director. He now sends Abby and her brother there.
“I can’t think of something that kids need more than summer camp right now. They are wired to be with other kids and that’s not in a rectangular box or in an X-Box or some of these other screens,” said Pooler. “They need social time, they need social interaction, they need to get outside, they need to be active, they need to get a chance to be kids again and that’s what summer camp’s going to deliver.”
Despite the safety precautions, Pooler said 200 fewer children registered for Camp Sloper this year because of the coronavirus.
Safety and money were certainly concerns, but so was transportation. Instead of being picked up by a bus, the students have to be shuttled by their parents.
“Not having all of our families here was a little sad for us,” said Hubney.
Many YMCA day camps have stopped providing food, instead requiring the children to bring a bagged lunch. Each group of campers is smaller, too, and intermingling is kept to a minimum.
“They’re doing what they can,” said Nancy Salamon, who came to pick up her two grandchildren from the camp.
Pooler said the safety guidelines from the Office of Early Childhood were updated Sunday night and Monday morning, to end temperature screenings and expand group sizes from 10 to 14 children.
"We've spent significant time and money developing the policies that we had in place to open today,” said Pooler.
Jennifer Baptiste says the strict state guidelines gave her confidence signing up her son for camp.
"I would prefer that they still did those measures. I would still check his temperature personally,” Baptiste said of her son Jaden.
"It's a little dicey because you know we've been home for a long time, but I'm very happy they're with their friends,” said Salamon.
Camp Sloper spent $3,000 on thermometers and Pooler says he plans on putting them to use.
"We've made a promise to our parents and our families that that was one of the protocols. So, I think we’re going to continue to do that and maybe do some evaluation and continue to get input from our families to make sure we’re living up to what the parents are hoping and expecting,” he said.