REGION — The year 2020 was the year without summer camp for many children both local and out of state. Crackling campfires, rousing games of kickball and nature walks full of curiosity and …
REGION — The year 2020 was the year without summer camp for many children both local and out of state. Crackling campfires, rousing games of kickball and nature walks full of curiosity and wonderment were all things that had to be put on hold. However, this summer brings a sense of hope.
The road to summer camps opening back up has not been an easy one. Joel and Lauren Rutkowski, owners and directors of Camp IHC, a nine-week sleepaway camp in Equinunk, PA were crestfallen when they heard that it would not be possible to hold a camp season in 2020.
“This is Lauren’s and my livelihood, and to not open our business for over a year wasn’t an easy decision. It was, in retrospect, the right decision, but it was filled with sadness for not being able to provide an incredible experience for so many people,” said Joel Rutkowski. Around the fall of 2021, things started to look up for the camp.
For others, this year is their first. Brandon Hogancamp missed out on his third year as a camp counselor at Tyler Hill Camp due to the cancellations. However, the following year provided an opportunity in the form of his older brother’s land, White Stag Farms. Thus, Camp White Stag was born with Hogancamp as its director. “I don’t know why we haven’t done it before this. I’ve always worked at camps. I’ve always worked with kids. My older brother has a lot of knowledge on the farming aspect,” he said. “All the pieces have always been there. It’s just been the first year that we’ve really thought of going for it.”
Despite the setbacks and beginning journeys for some, the staff at these camps are still as dedicated to creating an unforgettable summer experience as ever—from the trips around the lake and the thrilling ropes course at IHC, the games of kickball and walks by the river at the YMCA, to the Nerf battles and archery lessons at White Stag.
“It’s just finding those extra things so the kids don’t feel they’re lacking in their summer... We want them to feel like they’re still at camp; it’s just a little different this time,” said Joey Baez, programs director at Camp IHC.
The activities planned for these camps aren’t just wholesome fun; they also provide valuable lessons, like how to care for another living thing and where one’s food comes from. Some of the main attractions at Camp White Stag are its animal husbandry and agricultural education programs. Kids at the camp get a chance to take care of the goats, chickens, rabbits, cows and sheep. They also get to try their hands at gardening. “It gives them a sense of accomplishment to put all this work into making something grow, and you really get to see the fruits of your labor,” said Hogancamp.
Some of the best lessons learned at summer camp aren’t always physical, but personal, like being creative, learning from letdowns, gaining a new sense of independence and connecting with other people. “Kids need social experiences to thrive because human beings as a species are wired for social connection,” said Lauren Rutkowski. “So, the fact that these kids have been deprived of that, they need time to recover from that loss.”
On the surface, these camps may be wholly different. Some kids may go home at 3:30 p.m. the next day, some might go home in August. Some might travel 100 miles to get to camp, others one block. However, a few things unite each of these camps: a common desire to make up for the summer that many children lost out on; and passion and dedication to a craft that is not just a summer job, but a livelihood.