As her summer vacation approached, Sami Densky, a Fort Garrison Elementary School fourth grade student, could hardly wait to return to Camp Timber Tops in Greeley, Pa.
“All winter, she and her bunkmates have been speaking on FaceTime and texting,” says her mother, Alissa Abramson-Densky. “She formed an amazing group of friends there.”
Unfortunately, Sami will have to wait until next summer to see her camp buddies. Like so many other camps around the nation, Timber Tops will remain closed this season due to the pandemic.
When they learned that the camps of Sami and Jenna, her 7-year-old sister, would be closed this summer, Abramson-Densky says she and her husband, Lee Densky, “made some at-home purchases to get the kids out of the house. We bought a lovely blow-up pool and a big trampoline.
“In between, we have a house at the beach,” she says. “We’re in a decision-making period, now that the beaches are opening. We will probably go. Even if we don’t go to restaurants and stores, we can at least look at some different walls.”
With the cancellation of so many summer overnight and day camping programs, Sami’s family and so many others in the Baltimore area were left in a quandary about what to do with their children this season.
Camp Blue Ridge in Equinunk, Pa., was among the last summer camps in the region to announce it was closing. That left Stella Ross, 9 with no summer plans. Meanwhile, her 6-year-old brother, Jacob, who was scheduled to attend Beth Tfiloh Camps in Reisterstown, was also left in the lurch.
“It’s going to be ‘Camp Mommy,’” says their mother, Karli Ross, a Pikesville resident. “We’re just winging it as we go.”
Ross says the camp closings are “disappointing. I feel badly for the kids.”
To soften the blow, some camps, such as Capital Camps in Waynesboro, Pa., and Camp Harlam in Kunkletown, Pa., are offering virtual programming to help campers stay connected over the summer.
But some camps have not closed their operations but modified their programs. For instance, Camp Skylemar in Naples, Me., will open for a four-week session, and Jake Fruman, 13, and his brother Leo, 11, will be in attendance.
Until that overnight camp starts, Jake and Leo will “spend time at the Suburban Club where we’re members and at ‘Camp Mommy,'” says Tracee Fruman, their mom. “They might be a little bored, and that’s OK.”
Fruman says her children will be required to be tested for COVID-19 before they go to camp, “so we’re making sure we’re home [and] not seeing people.”
She says she knows that some parents are generally not comfortable with sending their children to camps at this time. But Fruman says she is personally acquainted with the owners of Camp Skylemar, and “we trust them as much as we trust our family. I know the risks, but the boys’ emotional and mental health are worth it. We feel that they’ll be very safe, and the things they’re doing [at camp] to make it safe make us feel very comfortable.”
Rain, Rain Go Away
A pair of camps serving Baltimore’s Jewish community will also offer summer camping programs and experiences.
The Owings Mills Jewish Community Center will offer Summer at the J from July 6 to Aug. 16. Plans to offer post-season camp options are being discussed, according to organizers.
“We spent a lot of time looking at the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], the [Maryland Department of Health], the [American Association of Camps] and the [JCC Association of North America] guidelines and talked to medical experts, staff and board members, and we decided we could open up safely,” says Emily Peisach Stern, senior director of J Camps.
This year’s Summer at the J program will be different from previous camp seasons, says Stern.
“It will be an outdoor program for kindergarten through eighth grade with different tracks,” she says. “There will be a general program that includes nature, science, dance and movement, gaga — a little of everything.”
In addition, Summer at the J will include an outdoor performing and visual arts track and a sports track with basketball, baseball, soccer and flag football, all modified to avoid physical contact.
While there will be no Top Notch Teens or counselor-in-training programs this summer, the JCC’s 4Front teen team will run programming for seventh and eighth grade campers that will include general day camp activities, such as free swim and leadership training workshops.
In addition, the JCC will hold a tennis academy with morning and afternoon sessions and a full-day Comprehensive Survival Arts outdoor karate camp. A program for preschool-age children will be held indoors at the JCC’s Early Learning Center in Owings Mills.
Stern says all camp groups will be limited to a maximum of 10 campers. She says groups will not be allowed to mingle; the temperatures of campers and staff members will be taken daily; staff members will be required to wear face masks; and campers who are age 9 and up will be required to wear masks during drop-off and pick-up times, which will be staggered to avoid crowds.
On days when it rains, “The Maryland Department of Health allows us to come inside for periods of the day,” Stern says. “But if it looks like it will rain all day, we may have to cancel.”
This season, the JCC will be unable to provide bus service. “Our number one priority is safety,” says Stern. “If we didn’t think we could open safely, we wouldn’t.”
Meanwhile, the Pearlstone Center in Reisterstown will also offer its summer program experience, called Tiyul, this season.
“We are opening what we’re calling a ‘camp-like’ program,” says Sonja Sugerman, Pearlstone’s director of programming. “We didn’t want to call it ‘camp’ because we don’t want anyone to think it is business as usual. While we won’t include large gatherings of kids singing together or any large community activities usually associated with summer camp, we will include many of the things that makes our camp special — outdoor farm and forest activities in small groups with excellent educator/camper ratios.”
Sugerman says Pearlstone’s program will serve second-to-eighth grade campers from June 29 to Aug. 21. If there is sufficient interest, a section for first-graders may be added, she says.
To maintain safety, Sugerman says campers will be divided into “pods” of eight campers and two staff members.
“Our 180-acre campus will enable us to keep unique pods separate from each other and keep everyone safe, and we will be following all of the guidelines that have come from the CDC, ACA, the state and local advisors, as well as the MDH,” she says.
In cases of rain or extreme heat, Sugerman says she isn’t particularly worried. “We are an outdoors camp, and people who sign their kids up know that we are outside, rain or shine,” she says. “If it is too hot or extremely rainy, we do have large outdoor covered pavilions, and if we have a day where we feel it might be unsafe, like thunderstorms, we can cancel.
“We feel connecting with nature and with other kids is much-needed medicine for what our children have gone through over this year,” says Sugerman. “To give kids the opportunity to be outside and have the in-person social interactions they have been missing is a gift, and we have the space and protocols to run a program under the guidelines the state has provided.”