CLIFTON PARK – As every business adjusted during the COVID-19 era, CAPTAIN Community Human Services also had to think outside of the box to make certain its annual Peace Camp for children would be safe and enjoyable this year.
For 26 years, Peace Camp has offered weekday summer sessions at Cheryl’s Lodge in the Halfmoon Heights Community for Shenendehowa Central School District students in grades K-3 and 4-6.
“We work on social and emotional development," explained Mariah Baker, CAPTAIN's outreach program manager, on Friday afternoon. “We also get to do fun things that touch base on the other areas of development.
“At least a quarter of the day is based on those social and emotional skills. We're also very adaptable; [we] ask what does the community need the most this summer and we adjust to meet those needs.”
This year, those needs not only meant that there would be more outside activities, but also putting a higher priority on lessons about social distancing and safety during social development skill sessions.
“They spend at least 45 minutes to an hour outside of the three and a-half hours,” Baker said. “They've been really thankful and grateful to be able to play outside, see other kids, see other adults, interact and be active.”
CAPTAIN had to make a tough choice when it found out that Peace Camp would be allowed to open, but would have added restrictions.
“This year we had to decide between serving only 10 to 20 kids for four weeks or still being able to serve up to the 40 for a shorter amount of time,” Baker said.
This summer, Peace Camp is hosting a pair of two-week sessions, with a morning and an afternoon experience.
As a result, Juli Gunner, the camp's recreation instructor, has not only taken on a couple of new titles, including cheerleader and teacher, but is also spending even more time outside, running, coaching and being challenged multiple times a day.
“It has been a lot of work to wipe down everything in between and kids just want to touch things,” she laughed. They just want to touch every piece of equipment that you have available.
Gunner, who has been a special education teacher with the Wildwood Programs in the Capital Region, will be taking a position at The Summit Center in Buffalo this fall.
“I am so impressed [what] good sports these kids have been. We've been playing social distance basketball, social distance soccer and all of those have involved me telling me the kids 'you can't pass the ball to your friends, you can't pick up your friend’s ball.' They've been great listeners.”
Jameson Rivet jumped at the chance to participate in this year's Peace Camp.
“Since quarantine is happening, I haven't really been to do things, I thought, why not try something new,” Rivet said. “When my mom told me that I could go here if I wanted, I said sure.
“I wanted to meet new people because I haven't been able to see the people and friends I have now.”
Lacey Callahan has enjoyed her sixth year of Peace Camp and appreciates the help the summer sessions offer.
“Sometimes people don’t know a lot of the words because they don't come from here,” Callahan said. “It helps them if they are angry or they need to take a break from something.”
She said that she has learned different coping skills including deep breathing exercises for kids.
“We do Mountain Breathing with our hands, square breathing when we hold our breath in for four and breath out for four [twice], and bumble bee breathing when we put our hands over our ears,” Callahan said. “We breath in and we hum out.”
While Peace Camp has been held at Cheryl’s Lodge for more than 20 years, the program has evolved during that time.
“It started with anti-bullying, trying to build some communication and problem-solving skills and provide a bit of summer activity and entertainment for the local kids here,” said Bauer. “It's definitely changed, responding to the needs of the community, the needs of the kids that they have individually.”
The first two-week session of Peace Camp wrapped up Friday. While a new session and group of campers begin Monday, the first group will not be lacking from Peace Camp.
“Today we're sending home individualized, for age and name, a bag of free books from the Halfmoon Library that they can keep,” Baker said. “They have some activities, ways they can get prizes for reading, things like that.
“Even if kids can't come here, either if they don't feel comfortable yet, we're still trying to give them an opportunity to have some sort of support skills.”
To learn more about what CAPTAIN offers, visit www.captaincares.org
Reach Stan Hudy at [email protected] or on Twitter @StanHudy