VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — As if kids haven’t had it rough enough during the COVID-19 pandemic, many are learning they won’t be heading off to day or overnight camp this summer.
It’s equally as hard on parents breaking the news, as organizations and municipalities are scrambling to make difficult decisions to run programs or cancel them out of an abundance of caution.
And with many heading back to work while community transmission rates drop, there are concerns about what childcare will look like, and camp organizers say they want a bit more clarification from the province on safety guidelines for overnight camps.
Mandy Wong, head of development and marketing at Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Greater Vancouver, says about 300 mentorships are taking place virtually until at least September.
“Our primary aim is to keep the programs going,” Wong says. “Right now, for September or in the fall, I think we’re still trying to gauge the situation.”
A few camps have already made the call to go ahead and open, including Mt. Seymour’s Eco Adventure camps, where organizers say kids will be mostly outdoors and using hand sanitizer regularly.
Gambier Island’s Camp Fircom says it wont be making a call until June 15.
Registration for municipally-run camps in places like Surrey and New Westminster are on hold as community centres remain closed. West Vancouver has already cancelled its Harmony Arts and other summer programs while moving some options for support online.
The YMCA’s popular Camp Elphinstone wont host a single child or family this year, cancelling all overnight and day camps for the rest of the year.
Meanwhile, non-profit organizations running camps for special needs kids are being hit hard by the pandemic. Zajac Ranch programs for kids with disabilities will not be happening at all this summer.
“In the summer months, Zajac Ranch for Children provides camps for children and young adults with chronic, life-threatening and/or debilitating conditions. These experiences give participants the opportunity to explore the outdoors while developing greater social and environmental awareness, increased self-confidence and positive growth in attitudes towards physical activity,” says the Mission camp’s website.
“We have now had to cancel all bookings for the upcoming months and are anticipating that we will have to continue doing so, in order to maintain the social distancing needed. This represents a loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars that we will not be able to make up for as we incur in substantial weekly costs, given the need to look after our petting zoo animals, maintain a large facility and pay fixed costs such as utilities and insurance.”
Kids struggle to get online
Big Brothers and Sisters of Greater Vancouver connects with more than 1,200 kids from Metro Vancouver through the Sea to Sky region each year. About 300 of those involved in the organizations’ well-known mentorship programs will be meeting their big brothers and sisters online.
That program pairs trained adult volunteers with kids from all different socio-economic backgrounds. Sharing technological resources has been difficult for some of them as parents work at home with the kids buzzing around.
“Some have not been able to have the digital tools to access video conferencing. Some of them are challenged with facilitating some of the matches because parents are working from home and the children and youth would need to use the one digital platform they have at home,” Wong explains.
“It’s been an adjustment. We’re actually very thankful we’ve had a variety of supporters.”
Microsoft and Traction on Demand have donated tablets and are facilitating workshops for the mentees during the coronavirus pandemic to help alleviate that.
“Honestly, at the end of the day, the families are sharing that they’re just happy these children can remain connected to their mentors, they’re excited to talk and interact with mentors virtually,” says Wong.
Wong says people interested in becoming mentors, a commitment of about one to two hours each week, can still sign up, with training being offered online.
“Right now just having those mentors dedicate the one or two hours they can to talk to the mentee, to do something with them, I think that can make a huge difference.”
Wong says she’s been inspired by what families and neighbourhoods have come up with in the absence of in-person camps and what mentors have imagined in the online space.
“Such as doing workouts together via Zoom, walk, art, or watching movies separately but FaceTiming together,” she says, adding she’s grateful for the volunteers who continue to dedicate their time to the kids.