In normal times, summer-camp kids at the East Pasco YMCA in Zephyrhills would be greeted with hugs and high-fives.
These aren’t normal times.
“Camp Cattle and Grove’’ almost is routine. It is still 10 weeks of swimming, games, activities, sports and education. But, it also includes social distancing, hand-washing, constant disinfecting and masking up. It’s summer camp in the COVID-19 era.
“It has been different, but some things haven’t changed,’’ said Alex Delgado, the East Pasco YMCA aquatics and program director who coordinates the camp. “Kids are kids. They love to see their friends. They love to have fun.
“They have been cooped up for a long time, so they are eager to get back at it. Sometimes, kids don’t understand what we’re doing. But, we make sure they don’t share supplies. We make sure every chair, every table, every basketball, every Lego, everything they use, is properly cleaned and disinfected. We’re all about having fun. But, we’re all about keeping them safe.’’
Delgado and Ryan Pratt, the East Pasco YMCA membership and wellness director, initially wondered how the summer camp would be received. Would parents be wary? It has actually been the opposite. On the busiest week, 45 kids participated (last summer’s average was 34) and attendance has been pretty consistent.
“We actually had a pretty good trial run because we did 11 weeks of relief care (where working parents dropped off kids for all-day sessions during the school closures),’’ Pratt said. “We practiced social distancing. We saw what worked, what didn’t work. We felt pretty good about it.
“When summer camp rolled around, it was a little strange at first. We’re so used to physically encouraging them, but even the basic hug couldn’t be done this time. Some kids were uneasy at first. But, they got used to wearing masks. Pretty soon, it was, ‘Hey, this is summer camp. I get to play games and swim.’ Now it seems really normal.’’
Delgado, who has produced a weekly newsletter to detail the camp’s activities for parents, said the older group of kids had a quick grasp on the new normal, which includes masks when there was no physical activity and persistent cleanliness. The younger kids have followed that example.
The only major camp difference is a lack of outside vendors. Last summer, camp included a mobile music bus and a petting zoo of farm animals. Now more caution has been exercised, although the kids have gotten visits from Kona Ice, and Culver’s Restaurant, which provided custard.
“It doesn’t take much for kids to have fun, really,’’ Delgado said. “They are creative and imaginative. Most days, they are having a blast.’’
The East Pasco YMCA staff has been creative as well. Delgado and Pratt — along with executive director Michael Cosentino — are wiping down equipment, sweeping floors and cleaning bathrooms.
“Whatever works,’’ Pratt said. “We’re doing a few things maybe we weren’t doing pre-COVID. But, we are dedicated to making this a memorable and safe experience for all the kids.’’
That’s true for the community at large.
The East Pasco YMCA, which mostly serves Zephyrhills, Dade City and Wesley Chapel, has morphed back to life after weeks of COVID-forced inactivity.
“In general, the membership is slowly returning,’’ Pratt said. “Once the virus is over, we’ll keep things in place. This level of cleanliness and disinfecting will be the standard, so that is a positive.
“We’re trying to let the community know that we are ready when they are ready. A lot of businesses are struggling, but we are a business, too. We are creating a safe environment for the entire family. Little by little, we are coming back and we want to be receptive to everyone’s needs.’’
This summer, that begins with the camp kids.
“Just seeing the happy faces, the laughter and the fun, that makes everything worth it,’’ Delgado said. “Summer camp and kids makes you feel like everything is back in order.’’
By Joey Johnston
Published July 22, 2020