By: Greg Keresztury, Chief Operating Officer
At the time that I am writing this piece, we are three days into 2020 summer camp. We at YMCA of the Pines are grateful to Governor Murphy for the opportunity to provide a summer camp experience for youth this summer. Given how uncertain things looked in the spring amid the COVID-19 outbreak, we are all taking every opportunity to seize joy and enjoy each moment this summer, no matter how small.
We are also thankful for the New Jersey Department of Health for the guidance provided to allow us to operate this summer in a manner that will mitigate the risk of an outbreak occurring locally as a result of camp operations. We have communicated frequently with our camp families since the pandemic began, and we routinely note that we cannot stop COVID-19 from coming to YMCA of the Pines, any better than we can stop any other communicable disease such as a head cold or stomach bug. However, we can develop protocols based on expert guidance, train our staff in those protocols, and have fidelity to those protocols to help mitigate the risks inherent in any operation right now.
I wanted to take a moment to provide a peek behind the curtain as to how these efforts are coming to life through our camp operations. What follows, is a detailed look at how our climbing wall is being utilized at camp this summer.
Climbing Wall Protocols
I will start by recognizing our fantastic challenge course staff, led by Outdoor Center Director, Carol Yard, for their work digging into the protocols and adapting them to the course. Our challenge course, and five story (50 foot) climbing wall in particular, is an immensely popular aspect of camp. We knew going into the summer that we would have to figure out a way to provide the challenge the wall provides to campers, while maintaining the rigorous standards set forth by the Department of Health guidance.
Upon arriving to the challenge course in their “family group” (a consistent group of 20 campers and staff who are together for the duration of the session), campers wash their hands and place their bags in a designated spot separate from other groups who may be at a different part of the course at the same time. Staff within the camper’s family group then fit the campers for pre-selected helmets and harnesses used only by that family group until they are sanitized/washed.
When it is a camper’s turn to climb, they will approach the climbing wall wearing a helmet and harness. One of our trained challenge course staff members, Tori Heppler in these photos, will then provide the camper with an opportunity to sanitize their hands prior to climbing.
Thereafter, Tori will check the camper’s harness and helmet for an appropriate, snug fit. Tori will ask the camper to move their head around to see if the helmet is loose or moves. Since contact is unavoidable in this situation due to the harness fit check, Tori is wearing a mask and face shield for the protection of both the camper, and Tori.
Once the gear has been checked, Tori will attach the carabiner to the camper’s harness.
Next, the camper will confirm with the staff member belaying that they are ready to climb, and then it’s onward and upward!
Once the camper returns to the ground, they are given the opportunity to again sanitize their hands as the individual handholds cannot realistically be sanitized between each climber.
The camper has successfully made an awesome memory (no matter how far up the wall they climbed), and had the opportunity to safely explore beyond their comfort level! The gear is set aside in marked bags or containers for cleaning and sanitizing before it goes back into usage with a new family group.
This operation is different in many ways from how we operated prior to 2020, but our staff members are tackling this challenge head on, and with the energy and enthusiasm we have come to associate with YMCA of the Pines staff. It has been wonderful to see how folks have worked together to creatively solve problems for the benefit of our campers who need camp more this summer than ever. We are grateful for the opportunity, and take the responsibility quite seriously.