Pandemic produces partnership to keep summer day camp operating in Harrisonburg

A participant in this year’s different-than-usual Boys & Girls Clubs summer camp. All photos courtesy of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.

By Eric Gorton, Contributor

Unable to occupy the Lucy F. Simms Continuing Education Center due to COVID-19, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County needed a location to hold its annual summer day camp in the city for a 19th consecutive year.

Eastern Mennonite School came through, and with some modifications, the camp is running for the month of July.

“Our board and staff are humbled by the opportunity EMS has provided to allow us to provide a silver-lining in the midst of what might have otherwise been a bleak summer for Boys & Girls Clubs families,” said Sandra Quigg, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs, in a press release.

The camp can serve up to 30 children per day, rather than the normal 100, and is running a few weeks shorter than normal, but that still helps families where parents are essential workers. Capping attendance at 30 participants per day is necessary for social distancing, Quigg said. Due to the limited capacity, the camp was offered only to families with parents who are current BGC members and are actively working.

The summer camp runs 7am-6pm, Monday to Friday for participants aged 5 to 12. For $45 a week, children participate in reading and other educational activities, do physical exercise and get a hot meal and a snack. The collaboration includes Hope Distributed, which provides meals and snacks on Mondays, and Harrisonburg City Schools, which provides meals and snacks Tuesday through Friday.

“All these groups provided the opportunity for us to continue to offer our programs for our kids and families in a time of need,” said Matt Krantz, director of operations for the Boys & Girls Clubs, in an email interview.

Krantz said the camp offers a number of educational activities each day. During quiet times, children read material of their choosing.

“In several of our programs, like one called Positive Action, we read about ways to make healthy behavioral choices and focus on vocabulary for those readings and discussion,” he said.

The Positive Action module also is available online for club members who are unable to attend the camp, Krantz said.

Camp programs focus on three areas: academic success, healthy lifestyles, and good character and citizenship.

“The education programs, much of the time, are built into fun STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) activities, like building birdhouses where you measure, cut, and learn what birds might like to live in a birdhouse,” Krantz said.

The EMS facilities are top-notch, he added.

“We have three classrooms dedicated to us and access to a kitchen, a gymnasium and playground. We set up each classroom with a specific function. One is used as a study room, the other a game space and the third, an arts and crafts room. We cannot thank EMS enough for allowing us to utilize their great facility.”

Paul Leaman, head of school at EMS, said in the press release, “We’re really glad to be able to support this important community program in a very small way. It’s wonderful to hear children in the building again and know that their summer is still a time of joyful learning and play.”

While the camp helps families, the organization is taking a financial hit.

“The unique thing about this year,” Krantz said, “is we need to ensure we have strong cleaning combined with significantly higher ratio of staff per BGC members due to social distancing. We keep a 1:10 ratio right now and the normal for us is 1:18. Supply costs are also higher due to protective gear and sanitizing needs.”

Added Quigg: “The biggest difference is not all in the cost, but cost combined with decreased revenue. For instance, we may normally have 75 members at $45 for a summer week and potentially have around $3,375 in fees. This year we max out at 30 members at $45 a week for $1,350 in maximum potential revenue. That is a loss of 40% with only a slight difference in staffing needs.”

The camp at EMS has nine regular staff this summer, enough to work with the children and keep the facility clean and sanitized, Krantz said.

Normally in session for eight weeks from the middle of June through the first week of August, this year’s camp will end July 31 so EMS has time to prepare for its upcoming school year, Krantz said.

“Our plan is to start back at the Lucy Simms Center for the upcoming school year,” he continued. “I know our parents are anxious to have open dates for that so please be patient as we work with the City on that.”


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