We interview the Camp James executive director about how the camp stayed open through 2020 to return this summer.
Summer camps, like most of the world, were turned upside down in 2020. Despite the quick pivoting that was required when California locked down last spring, some camps managed to stay open.
Among them was Camp James, Newport Dunes, which remained open with some adjustments.
“While camp looked a little bit different in 2020, the majority of our campers had an amazing time,” said Executive Director Scottie Roach. “We did surveys of our families towards the end of camp in 2020 and I cannot express our gratitude to them for allowing us to serve their children. The summer camp experience helps children develop those skills and ability to connect with their peers, their sense of wonder, outdoor adventure and creativity.”
Roach took some time from her busy schedule of planning for 2021’s camp to answer some questions about how Camp James still happened in 2020.
Parenting OC: How did you stay open last year?
Scottie Roach: 2020 was a year full of changes and also an effort to bring some comfort in familiarity to kids. The kids were coming off the quarantine, and were missing out on the peer play they truly need in order to have a healthy social and physical development. We adjusted to the protocols that were given to us by the CDC, state and local authorities and with guidance from the American Camp Association of which we are an Accredited Camp. I cannot stress enough the value of ACA membership for camp directors as well as a resource for parents.
POC: What protocols were put in place?
SR: We scaled back the number of campers we served. Time commitments to families were increased — if they wanted in, we needed them to commit to longer time at camp. This change allowed our staff to really get to know the kids better over the long haul and kids found the more they went, the better connections they made with peers, as well as they improved skills in the process. This also increased the pod idea with more consistency. We really focused on the pods, or groups, as we call them at camp. We were able to operate most activities with minor adjustments. Focus on play and connecting was our goal. Because our camp is 100 percent outside play, we were in as safe an environment as possible.
Of course, enhanced cleaning was a part of the program, along with mask-wearing, more hand-washing, we had to remind campers of the need for social distance. Lots of pool noodles, reminders, silly hand-washing songs, and just reminding everyone that we wanted them to be safe.
POC: Did anyone get sick?
SR: We had one individual who informed us that they tested COVID. We worked with the county health department to step through the process of contact tracing. Due to the nature of that individual not having any close contact with any one person more than 15 minutes and our strict mask policy for all team members (and now campers), we were fortunate that all others tested negative. No interruption in operations happened during the summer. Our team showed grit and determination to make camp happen. It was a big challenge.
POC: You offer a wide range of activities, from archery to bounce house, zip lining and rock climbing. How were they modified?
SR: With smaller group sizes, we were able to clean equipment in between groups as needed. We also spread far away from each other when possible to avoid close contact. Our team needed to work more independently in some cases but our counselors were really up to the challenge. I cannot say enough about how hard our staff worked to provide a positive experience to the campers. … We did not bring out the bounce house this [past] summer or our ball pit. However, all other activities were a go.
POC: What’s the plan for this year’s camp?
SR: We are already accepting registrations for 2021. Parents who missed out in 2020 are determined to sign up early so our enrollment is going very strong. We plan to operate in the same manner (as last summer) with small adjustments. The thing that every camp director will tell you is that we are always looking to improve and adjust when needed, long before COVID happened. The nature of camp and working with children is that things unexpected may happen. We are flexible and will adjust as needed.
Camp starts June 7. For more information, visit campjames.com.
By Jessica Peralta