WESTFIELD – The YMCA of Greater Westfield welcomed campers at Camp Shepard for its first day of camp on Mon., July 6. Camp Director Lauren Caprile said she was not going to believe it until the first day.
“We’re very excited to be out here, and so are the families. Everyone’s excited to be out here and with friends, and not having to worry about school and online classes,” she said, adding that video games and electronic devices stay at home.
YMCA Executive Director Andrea Allard agreed that the kids at Camp Shepard are happy to be outside and social. “I’m happy for the campers mostly, and their parents,” Allard said. “As parents go back to work, camping and day care are essential for the economy,” Allard said.
Allard said a lot of planning went into having camp this year. There will be eight sessions offered over the summer for ages 4 to 14. The first week that began July 6 is one session, followed by three two-week sessions, and the final one-week session.
The maximum capacity for the camp sessions have been reduced from 260 to 140 campers, who are practicing physical distancing, mask wearing, and sanitizing. The camp has eliminated visitors, family nights and overnights. “Parents can’t hang out, there are no day volunteers. The guidelines are very strict,” Allard said, adding that overnight camps were just informed that they can’t open.
“Camp Shepard has 106 acres to do physical distancing, and campers are outside 99.9% of the time,” Allard said. Camp activities include hiking, mountain biking, ropes courses, kayaking on the pond, archery, kick ball, and Wiffle ball.
When it rains, there are outdoor pavilions for arts and crafts, and based on the regulations, they keep social distance within the buildings, and sanitize after every group.
“If it’s a sprinkle, we play in the rain,” Allard said.
All campers are kept in their groups, with minimum exposure between groups. There is one counselor to 10 kids, and one to five for ages 4, 5, and 6.
Allard herself started as a camper at Camp Shepard in 1978 at age 7. Assistant Camp Director Sam Martin started at age 10.
“That’s why we worked so hard, because we know what the experience is for them,” Allard said.
When asked if the limited enrollment has hurt the YMCA financially, Allard said they did get some support from the Community Foundation of Western Mass. to open the camp. “For us, it’s about bringing the experience and opportunity to the kids. “We’ll do what we have to do,” she said.
As a not-for-profit, the YMCA also offers financial assistance. During a typical year, they spend $250,000 in financial assistance for memberships, $32,000 of which is in camp memberships. If anyone would like to help send a kid to camp for the summer, donations are welcome, Allard said.
Allard said during the closure, the YMCA pivoted. They did not run their annual campaign, set to launch on April 4, and canceled their premiere fundraising event, which they plan to move to September or October.
The YMCA did run emergency child care for essential workers from March 20 until June 29.
Allard said the YMCA fitness center on Court Street will also be reopening some of its programs to members beginning July 13.
A posting on their website at westfieldymca.org reads: “We are excited that we have received the MA Safety Standards for Fitness Centers and Health Clubs from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We are anticipating that we will be able to open our doors on July 13.
“The safety of our members, staff and the community is our number one priority. We have been working hard on policies, procedures and facilities. Now that we have the necessary guidance we need to take the time to make the adjustments to ensure compliance. Thank you in advance for your patience and understanding as we strive to bring you the best YMCA experience possible.”
Allard said they have rearranged the whole YMCA. Fitness equipment is spaced 14 feet apart, and group exercises will also maintain the 14 feet distancing. Masks are required unless social distancing is maintained.
There will be no high contact sports, such as basketball or racquetball, at this time. Family open swim has been eliminated for the time being, but other swim classes will be held.
Although they can only be open to members during this time, people may still join.
“We just got the fitness center and health club guidance last Thursday (July 1), which we worked hard to anticipate,” Allard said. She said future updates and changes will be posted on the website.
“It’s very exciting. It will be nice to have people back in the building,” Allard said. “I remember the day we closed on March 16. It was so quiet and surreal.”
“I’d rather have this slow opening and be safe. We’ll be following the data and recommendations, everyone will be doing what they need to do, and we’ll be good,” Allard said.