Council OKs summer camp for 2021

Young people in the diocese who are finishing third grade through graduating high school seniors again will have the chance to participate in a beloved youth event – summer camp – thanks to a vote on Feb. 24 by the Council of Trustees. Camp was cancelled in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It will look different from camps in the recent past because of restrictions adopted by Camp Wood YMCA, the American Camp Association and the diocese. Young people still will gather for a single week – June 6–12 – and will have the chance to see their friends, but that interaction will be restricted in a number of ways.

Karen Schlabach, diocesan missioner for youth, young adults and campus ministries, said that individual cabin capacity will be capped at about 60 percent of normal, with 4-5 campers in a cabin, along with two adults in accordance with safe church policy – one Episcopal staffer and one person from the YMCA camp staff. The cabins now have air conditioning, and Camp Wood received a grant to upgrade the filters used in those units for greater safety against the virus.

Almost all activities will take place outdoors. Two cabins will participate in camp activities and faith-based programs together as “buddy cabins,” reducing the number of people overall with whom campers interact. Cabins or buddy cabins will eat together, and they will go table-by-table to pick up a meal served cafeteria-style.

Cross on High-Y hill at Camp Wood
The cross at the top of High-Y hill at Camp Wood YMCA.

Everyone will be required to wear a mask except when eating, sleeping, showering or when proper social distancing cannot be maintained. There also will be special protocols for campers or staff who exhibit symptoms to help keep others safe. For anyone who tests positive, contact tracing will inform everyone with whom that person was in contact.

Extra cleaning protocols are in place, and campers and staff will undergo a daily health check for possible Covid symptoms. There also will be at least three registered nurses serving diocesan campers.

Bre Elman, a member of the diocesan Youth Commission from St. Thomas’, Overland Park, said, “I’m excited for camp even given all these safety precautions. Camp Wood has been a tradition since I was in middle school. Because of camp, I have met amazing people, created genuine relationships and enjoyed beautiful surroundings while growing as an individual. Experiencing a week full of joy, love and laughter is something I look forward to and I have missed this past summer.”

Schlabach said there also will be pre-camp meetings with families to stress the importance of maintaining distancing and safety in the weeks leading up to camp, for all involved.

“We can’t guarantee that the virus won’t find its way into camp,” she said, “but we are taking every precaution we can to reduce the risk.”

Before the Council vote, Schlabach shared Covid statistics from the American Camp Association for camps that took place in the summer of 2020. The numbers showed that virus spread was below normal in camps that undertook four things: required face coverings for everyone, modified programs, created cohort bubbles and enforced social distancing. Council members noted that having the diocese adopt those very measures helped them feel comfortable giving approval for camp to resume.

Schlabach said that fewer campers means the cost-per-person will be higher this year. To help offset that increase for everyone, the Council agreed to apply about $6,000 in scholarship money to the camp fee. This year’s fee will be $500 per camper; in 2019 (the last year of diocesan summer camp) it was $470.

A limited number of scholarships are available for those with financial need. The aid usually covers one-third of the camp fee, with the camper’s family and parish asked to cover the remaining two-thirds.

Additional details about the logistics for Episcopal Summer Camp will continue to be worked out with a group of experienced camp leaders, including several clergy and medical staff. All information will be made available on the camp website.

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