After a Year of Learning to Survive a Pandemic, Confidence Returns to Kids in Summer Camps

by Elvis Menayese, Queens University News Service

In a season of evolving guidelines, protocols and behaviors, Charlotte summer camp leaders say kids are displaying a new sense of confidence that may have faded during a year of COVID-19. 

After months of lessons in surviving a pandemic, kids know the drill.  

“There’s more confidence because we know more, and we’ve put these practices into place for a year now,” said Crystal Little, senior program director at the Morrison Family YMCA. “We’ve had tough conversations and now we’re not having it for the first time. So now we’re more well practiced in our conversations and procedures. 

“It’s super exciting because through all that stuff, we actually found ways to make camps still feel like camps even though are procedures have had to be different. Through this evolution, I think we’ve become better youth programmers,” Little said. “We’ve found better ways to do things, and safer ways to do things, and the quality of what we’ve been able to deliver to families has increased.” 

Indoors, Masks Rule. But Outdoors, No Masks 

Leaders managing camps at the YMCA, Carolina Raptor Center, and Charlotte Martial Arts Academy say optimism is on the rise among both campers and staffers.  

Charlotte summer camps are following guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. North Carolina state government also issued extensive guidelines. At most camps, children roam free outdoors without masks. Indoors, masks rule. 

“When campers can’t socially distance, they mask, our staff mask. We’re really careful about interaction between the campers,” said Jim Warren, executive director of the Carolina Raptor Center, which runs the RaptorsRock Summer Day Camp. “We’ve kept our numbers lower than we normally would so that we have a very intimate camping experience.” 

After a Year of Hunkering Down, Changes in Behavior 

At the Charlotte Martial Arts Academy, following CDC guidelines helps children and staff temper self-expression with caution, said Michael Price, the academy’s owner and director of summer camps. 

“Last year we were really trying to keep a 6-foot distance between kids. That’s really hard when you have 20 kids in a room and you’re trying to play a game or read a book to a kid,” said Price. “This year it’s a little easier since the social distancing rules are way more relaxed.” 

This summer, Warren has observed changes in the behavior of children. 

“We’ve seen less hugging of course. Kids like to hug, they like to be rambunctious,” Warren said. “We’re seeing a little less of that, and they are paying very good attention when we ask them to be separated, and masking. Everybody is tired of wearing a mask and youngsters probably even more so.”  

Rewarding Camp Staff for Vaccinations 

For camp staff, the Charlotte Martial Arts Academy, RaptorsRock Summer Day Camp and Morrison Family YMCA are not requiring vaccinations. The Morrison Family YMCA is a part of the YMCA of Greater Charlotte, which also operates 13 other camps in the Charlotte area. 

The Martial Arts Academy encourages camp staff to get vaccinated and rewards them for it. Price said 95% of academy camp staff is vaccinated. Staff members were compensated for two hours of pay for standing in line and presented with a $50 gift card when fully vaccinated.   

Despite vaccination programs, Charlotte summer camps are not back to full capacity. Camp leaders expect a return to normal enrollment will not occur until summer 2022. 

“Our goal is next year to have 75 kids per week in camp,” Price said. “So we’re pretty excited about next year, and I think we will be able to do it. I definitely hope that by next summer we will be able to be mask-free, and I think it will give that fringe group of parents who don’t want their kids wearing masks the ability to enroll their kids in our camps.”  

Children under the age of 12 cannot be vaccinated currently, and Little said two of the biggest concerns among parents are the fear of their child being exposed, or a positive case in camp. 

“COVID exists in our community, and we serve our community. We count on our community working together as a team. If a child is to test positive and they’ve been at camp, we rely on the parent sharing that information — and they do,” Price said.  

Rewards of Being Outside 

As children face a different camp experience, Warren said it’s essential that parents and staff allow children to express themselves in a safe environment, despite the virus.  

“Folks needs to know how crucial it is to let children go outside and play,” Warren said. “It’s not just about ‘hey, give them something to do for a few hours while I’m at work.’ Really give them a safe experience that can help them cope with COVID. We all need that coping mechanism to get away from what the pandemic has done to us. I think camps are the perfect place for that. It’s the perfect way to let youngsters be youngsters.”  

Elvis Menayese, of Cardiff, Wales, is a student in the James L. Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte, which provides the news service in support of local community news. 

Main Photo: At the Charlotte Martial Arts Academy, COVID guidelines help campers temper self-expression with caution. Martial Arts Academy photo. 


The Charlotte Journalism Collaborative is supported by the Local Media Project, an initiative launched by the Solutions Journalism Network with support from the Knight Foundation to strengthen and reinvigorate local media ecosystems.