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With Camps Closed, US Families Face Summer in the Great Indoors

FILE - Kimberly Lopez, left, and Kamila Pereda, both 12, practice jumping rope before the start of the Summer Camp Jump Rope Championship put on by the Miami-Dade Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department at Tamiami Park, Tuesday, July 31, 2018, in Mia
With Camps Closed, American Families Face Summer in the Great Indoors
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Welcome to summer in the great indoors!

Parents across the United States are learning children’s summer camps will be canceled, delayed or moved online because of the coronavirus health crisis.

Public safety measures will affect how boys and girls spend their summer vacation. From New Hampshire to California, families and the camps themselves are struggling. Online campfires and “virtual” fun and games in the living room are becoming more likely.

It is a sharp blow for children — and their parents — who have spent weeks at home during school closures. Many had hoped attending summer camp would be a prize following weeks of homeschooling and social distancing.

The move is also a sharp blow to nonprofit groups that depend on the money they earn from camps.

Young people who were looking forward to working at summer camp jobs have also been affected.

“When we finally found out that schools were going to be closed for the rest of the year, I was like, ‘Well, there’s always summer camp.’ I was really holding out for that,” said Rasha Habiby of California. She had planned to send her 10-year-old daughter to her first sleep-away camp. But that is not possible anymore.

Habiby and her husband have demanding jobs. But they chose to keep their children away from her parents to avoid possibly spreading the virus. Now, she said the couple may be forced to ask her parents to watch the children during work hours.

Children perform activities with surfing boards at the Mediterranean Sea during a summer camp in Ashkelon, Israel July 10, 2019. (REUTERS/Amir Cohen)
Children perform activities with surfing boards at the Mediterranean Sea during a summer camp in Ashkelon, Israel July 10, 2019. (REUTERS/Amir Cohen)

Summer camps as big business

An estimated 20 million American children attend one or more summer camps each year. Their camp fees fuel an $18-billion industry that employs over a million seasonal workers. That information comes from the American Camp Association, which represents more than 3,100 camps.

The association has asked independent health experts to make suggestions for camps. Many camps still hope to open, said Tom Rosenberg, the group’s president. Camps are awaiting guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as state and local health officials, he added.

“Most camps are not asking if they’re going to open but how they’re going to open,” Rosenberg said.

Camp Walt Whitman offers a seven-week overnight camp in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Camp officials sent parents a letter with three proposals: canceling all activities, postponing them or going forward with social distancing and other safety measures. Officials will decide after May 20, director Jed Dorfman said.

For smaller camps, cancelations could lead to financial ruin. Many nonprofits use the money that camps raise for their budgets and to pay for service contracts.

Organizers of some canceled camps have urged parents to donate all or part of this year’s camp fees or put the money toward next year’s camp.

That led to problems for Galileo Learning, a camp near San Francisco, California. It canceled its camp this summer and credited families for next year.

That angered some parents. The company then asked parents whether they would like all or part of their money returned or whether they would like a credit for future use. In a statement, Galileo said it had stopped paying or dismissed more than 80 percent of its year-round workers.

Other camps are racing to move online.

Interlochen Arts Camp usually has 2,800 young people from 50 countries attend its summer program in Michigan. But this year the camp will move to virtual programs. The camp will be shorter than usual, president Trey Devey said.

The changes are proving difficult for many Americans, including young people.

Delia Graham was looking forward to spending six weeks at Willowbrook Arts Camp, where she has been going since age 5. Now, 10 years later, she is old enough to work as a half-day counselor at the camp near Portland, Oregon.

Graham and her five camp friends have talked in a FaceTime group meeting about what might happen before getting the bad news, she said.

“I didn’t think it would get so bad, that it would last this long,” she said of the coronavirus pandemic. “I really miss my friends.”

I'm Pete Musto.

Gillian Flaccus wrote this story for The Associated Press. George Grow adapted the report for VOA learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.


Words in This Story

virtual – adj. not physically existing, but made by software programs to appear to do so

fee – n. a payment made to someone with expertise in exchange for advice or services

hold out – phrasal verb

contract n. a business agreement

outcry – n. a shout or cry

counselor – n. someone who supervises children at a camp; a person who provides guidance

pandemic – n.

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