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How the coronavirus has impacted Rolling River Day Camp in East Rockaway, others

Backyard camps are springing up in Lynbrook

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While many Long Island camps have shuttered for the summer amid the coronavirus pandemic, Rolling River Day Camp in East Rockaway will open, but administrators had to make major changes to comply with health guidelines.

According to the American Camp Association, more than 14 million children and adults attend camp, but because of social-distancing regulations put in place by both federal and state governments, many camps are unable to open this summer. With the pandemic also having a negative effect on funding and causing financial stress, it has deprived many summer campers of daily socialization and activities, and Rolling River is one of many facilities that had to make significant changes.

Camp administrators have decided that the facility will run its typical program and offer its entire range of activities this summer, at limited capacity. Following state and Department of Health guidelines, the camp will reduce its maximum population from 600 to 300. In order to further ensure minimal contact, groups of campers will remain distanced from other groups, and everyone will wear masks when indoors.

“The number one reason we chose to stay open is because we love the kids,” Director Marissa Goodman Allaben said. “We know the kids need us more than ever, because they’ve been so deprived of socialization with other kids. We are absolutely thrilled to be able to give campers and staff the opportunity to just be themselves and come out of isolation at camp this summer.”

There will be mandatory temperature checks upon arrival, and all campers and staffers are required to get tested for Covid-19 before opening day, July 13. Rolling River tuition typically encompasses transportation for the campers, but the children cannot be put on buses, which would contravene social-distancing regulations.

Additionally, families who are uncomfortable with sending their kids to camp during the day have the option of joining Rolling River’s pool club on Saturdays or the family camp at the end of the summer.

Though Rolling River will function at reduced capacity, many other camps have shuttered for the summer, such as Lawrence Woodmere Academy Summer Day Camp. Aside from benefiting children, camps employ nearly 2 million camp staff across the country annually, leaving many without jobs and paychecks this summer. Parents will also feel the effects of the cancellations. Working mothers and fathers must now scramble to find babysitters for their young ones, adding stress during an already taxing time.

The administration at Lawrence Woodmere Academy said they felt that the many restrictions were not conducive to a typical day-camp experience. LWA annually hosts up to 450 campers between ages 2 and 16, and employs about 200 staff members each summer.

“I’m a mother, and the thought of someone, God forbid, getting sick, or worse . . . I wouldn’t be able to live with myself,” Director Candice Morgenlander said. “Even if we opened and did all of the required steps — temperature checks, testing prior to camp — it just wasn’t feasible or worth the risk.”

Morgenlander said LWA was previously planning to open, considering different contingency plans such as staggering days and having different age groups come at different times. But after weighing the pros and cons, she said, she decided to prioritize the safety of her camp family.

“I’m so grateful that the families have been so lovely, understanding and appreciative that we are looking out for their children’s safety,” she said. “It was a very tough decision to close camp, but it was definitely the right decision for us. I am keeping my fingers crossed that we will go ahead with summer 2021.”

Because many day camps such as LWA will not be open, some Long Islanders have organized a new type of camp: an at-home model. Backyard camps will give children the opportunity to play in the sun while remaining conscious of Covid-19 restrictions. The goal is to combat summertime boredom, keep children entertained and give busy parents a hiatus from playtime.

Olivia Ackerman and Mia Tetelman, two rising juniors at Lynbrook High School, host more than 10 neighborhood girls in Tetelman’s backyard twice a week. They play sports, such as basketball, and provide activities like tie-dyeing and bracelet making.

“We feel it’s so important for these kids to be active and social with their friends, even if it is just for a few hours a week, to create more normalcy during their summer,” Ackerman said.

Tetelman’s sister Shelli, a rising fifth-grader at Waverly Park Elementary School, takes part in the backyard camp with her friends. She attended day camp for the past seven summers and said she was sad to see it canceled this year. “My favorite backyard camp activities are making tie-dye shirts and bead bracelets,” she said.

Upon learning that many camps were not opening this summer, Lynbrook residents Andrew Cohen and Sydnee Romano established Smiles and Sunshine, a camp-like babysitting service. They said they hope to provide children with summer activities and a sense of familiarity during this unprecedented time.

Each of the entrepreneurs has fond memories of their childhood camps and extensive experience in the babysitting field. They are both rising juniors in college; Cohen is studying art at New York University, and Romano is pursuing a degree in elementary education at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.

Cohen and Romano bring games, crafts and a variety of projects to the three-hour weekly sessions. Boys and girls of all ages are welcome to sign up with eight to 10 of their closest friends. The service will run from June 29 to Aug. 7.

“People in our community and the surrounding South Shore area have responded really well to Smiles and Sunshine,” Romano said. “They seem to love how our babysitting service entertains their children and their friends.”