Sonoma County Boys & Girls Clubs host summer camps under sweeping new policies

Nine children sat in stationary chairs on Monday kicking a soccer ball up and down a small stretch of a worn grass field in Windsor. Nearby, another group of kids were doing individual drills on a baseball diamond, balancing a ball on a tennis racket like it was an egg-and-spoon race.

These were just a few of the newly-designed activities the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma-Marin have been offering for roughly five weeks since child care services were first permitted for families with essential workers. Public health restrictions for child care were relaxed to include all families in late May.

The Sonoma County chapters of the national nonprofit have overhauled their summer camp programs and created a comprehensive daily regimen to safely accommodate children as business sectors reopen and parents go back to work.

Amid concerns that any misstep could trigger an uptick of local coronavirus cases, summer camp activities look noticeably different this year ­- as does the motto for this year’s program.

“Not sharing is caring, which is weird to get used to,” said 10-year-old Damian Garcia of Windsor. “At school they taught us to share stuff.”

The line to drop off kids every morning resembles a drive-thru at In-N-Out Burger, said Michelle Edwards, executive vice president of the Sonoma-Marin clubs. Every child has their temperature taken from inside the car, and is then asked a series of health-specific questions to check if they’re sick or showing any symptoms. The responses from each health screening get logged before they can go inside.

The local Boys & Girls Clubs are so far looking after 402 children at seven sites around the county, which is about 75% less than last year, Edwards said.

Each room inside the Windsor clubhouse is restricted to a single group of kids, who, along with a dedicated counselor, are the only people who use that space for the duration of the camp. Everyone has an assigned seat, a bag of supplies for arts and crafts, and their own storage space or crate.

Hand-washing is done at least once per hour, one child at a time. And while some rooms are closed off, others - like the gymnasium - have been repurposed to house to additional groups.

A single staff member is also dedicated to each group, which is a new wrinkle compared to previous years when counselors oversaw groups of 20, separated by age group, with kids from different classes intermingling and rotating through activities over the course of the day.

This year a 12-person cap has been instituted, and ages in each class can range from 5 to 12 years old. Siblings are always grouped together.

Katie Elze, a program director and counselor in her ninth year with the Boys & Girls Club, said the sweeping systems in place have made it “easier to manage than I thought it would be.” Still, constantly watching for health violations can be draining.

“Instead of being able to relax all the time and have fun, we have to always keep on social distancing and washing hands,” Elze said. “It takes a lot out of me at the end of the day. I’m exhausted.”

The children, at least, appeared to be adjusting well.

Brodie Hopper, 8, had the enviable position as a striker in stationary soccer Monday morning. His chair was positioned close to the goal, and he tried to capitalize every time the ball dribbled his way.

Teammate Khyree Harrison, 8, relished in each goal, partly because it was his older brother, 11-year-old Jeremiah Harrison, who was getting scored on.

Many children have noted how much they enjoy the small-group environment, Elze said. It’s far less social pressure since they’re with the same people every day, and they’ve learned how to “give each other a lot of grace” when any issues arise, she said.

This year’s summer camps are the first time in months that most children have been with anyone outside their family, said Jennifer Weis, CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma-Marin. For many of them, it’s an environment that provides a sense of normalcy - even if there’s a variety of new rules in place.

“They’re missing out on so much,” Weis said. “We want their days with us to be the highlight of their last 12 weeks.”

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