Happy Camper at Home: Cook Children’s Continues Tradition of Camp During COVID-19 Pandemic
Normally, it's time for kids to pack their bags, kiss their parents goodbye, get on a bus, and head to Camp John Marc. Last year, 1,081 kids, 175 employees and 231 volunteers went through some form of this ritual.
But as we all know, nothing is normal right now.
The circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic meant the cancelation of all summer camps. Well kind of, because while kids won't be going away this summer, they can experience camp from the comforts of their homes.
For several years now, a volunteer program called Happy Camper brought the camp experience year round to the medical center. This summer, Cook Children's will bring a new program called "Happy Camper at Home" to kids who would have attended a diagnosis-specific camp.
Katie Campbell, Child Life manager at Cook Children's, said a lot of kids count on camp for their socialization during the summer. Cook Children's Camp for Kids allows patients to learn about their diagnosis and be encouraged by others who share their same challenges.
"A lot of the kids who have chronic illnesses, at school they may be the only person in their class with diabetes, or they may not know anyone else at school with asthma," Campbell said. "They get a chance in the summer to go camping for a week with kids who are just like them. It doesn't feel as isolating or different. That's something campers will miss this summer is having that opportunity to be with people that share the same challenges and seeing their medical team in a different location. It's different to see their doctor in their regular clothes when you come to the clinic vs. shorts and T-shirt or in their trunks swimming at the pool with you."
So while kids wouldn't be able to attend, the experience to be a part of camp life was too important to cancel entirely. With a lower census than usual because of COVID-19, Child Life specialists focused on creating a different camp environment from home.
"Once we decided to shift gears and do something different, we started meeting weekly, and then everyone got creative and hit the ground running," Campbell said. "Our hope is for kids to opt-in virtually. They will get to come by the medical center in mid-June and pick up their 'swag boxes' with a bunch of branded camp stuff as they would usually get. They will get things like a T-shirt, a flashlight, water bottles, a deck of cards, those kinds of things. But then we also started to think about what activities we could offer the campers."
A YouTube page with content created by Cook Children's Child Life Zone staff will be available for the campers to watch. Just like any other summer, the campers will receive a mix of fun and education through watching YouTube. The YouTube channel will be available to all kids, even for those who aren't a part of the camps.
The channel will offer cooking, crafts, games and scavenger hunts. The medical teams related to a child's specific condition will provide short diagnosis education videos. Plus, kids can watch the Laughter League, Cook Children's clown program, perform comedy and circus skills, origami lessons and more.
More confined to the campers themselves, a private Instagram account will be available during the summer, which will be the home of a live talent show, dog visits, crafts and more.
"The hope is to build a little bit of a community within Instagram," Campbell said.
Campbell has been at Cook Children's for 21 years, and this is the first time that her summer won't center around attending or planning a camp. She said she would miss going, but this summer will offer some unique positive aspects that generally wouldn't take place.
"One cool thing about doing camps virtually is for the first time we'll be able to include kids with cystic fibrosis in our camping program," Campbell said. "Those kids can't go away to camp because of isolation restrictions around having CF. They can't be together in a community setting. So it will be neat because those kids will be able to engage in camp programming when they haven't formally had camps they could attend in the past."
Another interesting aspect of virtual is that other family members will get a taste of what camp is all about during the summer. Other than Camp Sanguinity, siblings of patients aren't allowed to go to camps.
"I think it will be fun to see what conversations kids will have with their parents and siblings about what happens at camp," Campell said. "My hope is it fills in some of the blanks for families of why camp is so important. Maybe, parents get a chance to watch over their kids' shoulders or the brothers and sisters share in some of the activities. I hope it brings the spirit of camps into everybody's house, and other people in the families benefit from it."
Supporting Camp For Kids
This year, in order to keep patients and families safe, we have had to make changes to our Summer 2020 camps. The Camps for Kids team has transitioned many of our camps to virtual and will provide campers with a “camp in a box.” In addition to our virtual camps, other camps have been rescheduled for a later date.
With your support, Cook Children’s can continue to create long-lasting and special memories through virtual camp. Donate today to help bring this experience to our patient families, free of charge. Click here to learn more and find out how you can donate.