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Camp gets ‘back to basics’ after an abnormal year

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With summer in full swing, the Glen Cove YMCA camp is halfway through its sessions. The camp is working hard to get creative in keeping kids safe while rebuilding the social skills lost during the past year.

“Camp has really had to go back to the basics of what camp is,” said Joe Furman, the YMCA camp leader. “It is less about what attractions we have and more about the people that are here.”

Furman explained that this means counselors have been working extra hard to be creative in keeping kids happy while maintaining a safe space, especially with the lack of outside companies coming to the camp.

“Our counselors are really doing a fantastic job of stepping into that spot,” he said, “and making sure that this experience for the kids is a little more than just their typical average camp experience.”

Gianna Chiariello is a counselor for children going into first grade, and has been working at the YMCA for three years. This year, she said, she has gotten creative with games like duck, duck, goose: instead of allowing kids to sit knee-to-knee and touch each other’s heads, the campers sit spaced apart and place their hands over each other’s heads, making sure not to touch them. Red light, green light follows similar rules, she said, having kids shout out “first” instead of touching each other.

YMCA Executive Director Peter Foster discussed some of the precautions kept in place to keep kids Covid safe. Social distancing is still in place, masks are required for everyone inside and on buses, wellness checks are done to see how kids are feeling, and contact tracing sheets are written up anytime there is any crossing between groups or exposure to others, like lifeguards.

Parents and children are excited to be able to get back to being outside and with friends, however, for some children, the anxieties from the past year continue. According to Foster, the registration is about 25 percent less than it has been in past years.

“I feel like there are definitely some kids that are a little bit more anxious,” Chiariello said. “But we make sure to sit them down and let them know ‘you guys don’t have to wear your masks as long as you’re socially distanced with each other, if you feel more comfortable wearing them please do that.’”

Furman described similar experiences with anxious children, saying that patience is key. He believes that children will mirror the emotions the people around them express, hoping that the comfortable atmosphere created at the YMCA will help ease kids and bring them back to being relaxed around others.

“We’re doing our best [to recognize] that if a camper is feeling a little uncomfortable,” Furman said, “we don’t force them out of their comfort zone. We allow them to be in a space where they feel safe.”

Foster believes it is important for kids to be able to step away from their screens for a bit.

“The screen time alone this year just got to be so much more,” he said. “We’re a recreational camp; we do sports, activities, it’s moving around and swimming and it gets the kids to have that social aspect, but also physical and keep them moving.”

The camp has been focusing on more than just fun and safe games. This year the YMCA has brought in an outside company to help improve its STEM program.

“I try to make sure that the lessons we are learning at home and in school continue wherever the children go,” Furman said. “We want to make sure we’re instilling the proper morals and proper values.”

In its promotional materials, the YMCA camp is described as being “more than just a day camp” and is a “place where friendships and relationships begin and grow year to year.” To Foster and Chiariello, this sentiment rings true. Foster started working as a camp counselor at the Glen Cove YMCA before working his way up to executive director.

“The YMCA has helped me,” Foster said, “so that’s what I try to do for the community and especially the young ones.”

Chiariello is on her way to following the same path. Now 18, she began attending the YMCA camp when she was 8 years old.

“The YMCA is definitely one of my favorite places to be; that’s why I keep coming back each summer,” she said. “I came back to work here because I love it and I want to make more kids see how amazing it is to be here.”

The YMCA camp is still open for registration for the third and fourth sessions at ymcali.org.