Summer Camps Face a Tight Labor Market, Supply Chain Issues and Inflation

Children in northwest Arkansas and across the country are returning this summer to day and night camps that are starting to look more like they did before the pandemic.

The camps are offering more activities and serving more children than in the past two years, but still face challenges such as finding staff in a tight labor market, supply chain issues and inflation, camp directors said.

The pandemic has brought about beneficial changes such as more efficient registration procedures, the use of technology for registration forms, and improved handwashing and sanitation protocols that help prevent the spread of all diseases. communicable diseases.

Camp War Eagle closed its day camps in northwest Arkansas in 2020 and operated overnight camps on Beaver Lake at significantly limited capacity, according to Leslie Seaton, director of operations. The camp required a negative covid test before attendance and changed many aspects of its programming to keep campers in small groups that moved together in activities to minimize covid-19 transmission, she said.

The summer of 2021 offered a much more normal camp experience, including day camps, she said. Peaking the delta variant in mid-summer required some tweaking with staff members, but the camper experience was unaffected, she said.

This year, most of the covid restrictions are lifted and the remaining requirements are part of the health and safety protection measures that are in place each summer, Seaton said.

The camp still hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic camper numbers, allowing for smaller groups as administrators assess covid levels in the community, Seaton said. The camp expects around 6,000 campers in overnight and day camps this year, she said, compared to the 7,025 children it welcomed in 2019. It has around 400 seasonal staff and 55 employees. year round, she said.

INDUSTRY IMPACT

When covid-19 hit in 2020, 82% of overnight camps and 40% of day camps across the country couldn’t operate, according to Tom Rosenberg, president and CEO of the American Camp Association. . As a result, 19.5 million children were unable to attend camp, 900,000 seasonal jobs were lost and the industry suffered a $16 billion hit, he said.

The nonprofit provides support to more than 15,000 day and overnight camps nationwide. Before the pandemic, these camps served about 26 million children and employed 1.2 million seasonal staff each year, he said.

When the pandemic hit, the association hired an environmental health consulting firm and created an expert panel to develop a guide for camps to mitigate transmission of the virus, Rosenberg said. Each state is responsible for making public health decisions, and not all states have allowed camps to operate in 2020, he said.

The association worked with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to refine the guidelines in 2021, Rosenberg said. All 50 states allowed day and overnight camps last year.

Only seven state authorities are providing day camp counseling and 10 are providing overnight counseling this year, he said.

In Arkansas, there have been no restrictions or guidelines on camps since late summer 2020, according to Danyelle McNeill, public health officer for the Arkansas Department of Health. The department offered advice and recommendations in 2021, she said. This year, the department is returning camps to CDC guidelines, which are similar to guidelines for K-12 schools.

CAMP EXPERIENCE

Camp Siloam is seeing a record number of campers this year and could top 6,000 children by the end of the summer, according to director Jason Wilkie. The Arkansas Baptist Convention owns and operates the 99-year-old overnight camp in Siloam Springs.

“I think the parents are eager to let the kids have that camp experience again, and the kids are excited to go back to summer camp,” he said.

The camp was canceled in 2020 because the collective living situation was too risky, Wilkie said. Churches bring groups to the camp, with adult supervisors, and stay in dormitories, he said. The camp also has its own staff of 12 year-round employees as well as 85 summer workers, most of whom are students, he said.

Camp Siloam had a camp in 2021 with security measures in place, but numbers were down with around 4,200 children, around 1,500 less than normal, he said. Some campers and staff have tested positive for covid-19, but the camp has remained open even though it has had to send some groups home, he said.

“It was the hardest summer we’ve ever had, but we were still able to continue doing ministry,” Wilkie said.

New Life Ranch, which has locations in Colcord, Okla., Adair, Okla. And Russellville, has also seen camper numbers return to pre-pandemic levels, according to executive director Tom Graney.

New Life Ranch has more elementary-age campers than ever before, but there has been a slight reduction in the number of campers in the seventh through 12th grade age group, Graney said.

The camp operated at 45% capacity in 2020 by grouping campers into small cohorts and avoiding large gatherings at chapel and meal times, he said. The camp has also developed health protocols and built large handwashing stations, which it plans to continue, he said.

This year, the camp holds large group gatherings for meals, chapel and games, and allows parents to visit on the final day, he said.

DAY CAMPS

Day and night camps play an important role in the country’s child care system, Rosenberg said.

The Rogers Activity Center was serving about 400 children a day before the pandemic through its summer day camp program, according to Cody Steussy, assistant general manager. In 2020, the camp offered a very limited summer program and was able to accommodate 200 campers this year and last, he said.

The summer camp program is divided into week-long sessions, but many kids attend all summer long, Steussy said. Children in grades one through seven spend up to 12 hours a day at camp. Their days include meals, games, activities, sports and field trips, he said.

During the pandemic, the camp divided activities by family groups rather than age group, did screenings every morning, required masks and did not do field trips, Steussy said. This year is getting back to normal with field trips and expanded activities. The program continues many of the health practices it had in place before the pandemic, such as daily disinfection and hand washing, he said.

According to Executive Director Marshall Shafkowitz, Brightwater’s Future Chef Food Camps have been able to increase enrollment this year. Brightwater is the culinary school of Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville. It offers six week-long day camp sessions for children ages 9-17.

Brightwater hosted no camps in 2020 and instead focused on feeding doctors, nurses and hospital staff, Shafkowitz said. He offered a camp last year with a small number of registrations. This year, the program is expanding to serve 120 campers and removing requirements such as mask-wearing, he said.

Brightwater has learned to use technology to allow parents to fill out forms and register campers more efficiently, Shafkowitz. The camp gave parents QR codes with links to online forms, which reduced contact between parents and staff, he said.

Children spend time outdoors planting, growing and harvesting food in Brightwater Gardens, then learn how to use ingredients in the kitchen, Shafkowitz said. It’s great to hear the sound of pots and pans and the laughter of children in the kitchens, he says.

FINANCIAL IMPACT

Camp Acacia, a residential summer camp in Gentry for children and adults with special needs, was in its second year of operation when the pandemic hit, said executive director Rachel Smith. The camp was unable to open in 2020 and operated at around 60% capacity with limited activities in 2021, she said.

The financial impact of the pandemic was dire, and the camp went 20 months without income, Smith said. Donors stepped up and helped the camp stay open, she said.

“We are very fortunate that Northwest Arkansas is such a generous community,” Smith said.

This year, Camp Acacia opens with a full range of programs and doesn’t require as much masking since most staff are fully vaccinated, Smith said.

Because the camp serves a very high-risk population, it already had many hand-washing and sanitizing protocols in place before the pandemic, Smith said. The camp had no cases of covid-19 last year and only one case of stomach flu and a cold, she said.

The biggest financial impacts for Camp War Eagle have been increased costs for medical supplies, protective gear and testing, Seaton said. The camp has also felt the impact of inflation on food prices and other areas, she said.

The Rogers Activity Center has operated at a loss for the past two years, but hopes this year will be better, Steussy said. The camp is an important service and the center wants to continue offering it, he said.

Staffing is the biggest challenge facing Camp Siloam this year, Wilkie said. The camp still has five or six positions to fill, he said. A staff shortage has also limited the number of children the Rogers Activity Center can serve, Steussy said.

“We would love to accept more children,” Steussy said.

Summer campers watch Mitchell Waits slide down a waterslide Thursday, June 9, 2020 at Camp Siloam, a Baptist summer camp in Siloam Springs. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Spencer Tirey)
Photo Kenley Young works on building a Bottle Rocket with Camp Counselor Wesley Bridges Thursday, June 9, 2020, at Camp Siloam, a Baptist summer camp in Siloam Springs. Bottle rockets use a water squeezer to fly, which the kids laughed at later last night at camp. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Spencer Tirey)
Photo Ten-year-old Kirsten West gets ready to rock on Thursday, June 9, 2020, during a ride called the Scream at Camp Siloam, a Baptist summer camp in Siloam Springs. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Spencer Tirey)
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