Many summer youth camps are still up in the air, even after Governor Larry Hogan eased restrictions on them at the end of May amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
But one special camp is finding a way to give kids fun activities to do this summer while staying safe.
Camp Happy is a free, on-site summer camp that is geared toward children who live in transitional housing, foster or group homes or hospitals. It started in 2015 by the non-profit We Cancerve, which was created by 15-year-old cancer survivor Grace Callwood.
Callwood said they work with organizations like the Harford Family House, Ana's House or Arrow Crossroads to plan activities, field trips and guest speakers for the kids.
Brianna Mosley, 14, participated in Camp Happy with her siblings in its first two years while their family lived at the Harford Family House, a transitional housing program for homeless families in Harford County.
“It was really fun. It was a place that we could like call home,” said Brianna. “Everyone was really nice and really sweet and they actually cared about us.”
But when COVID-19 started to spread in Maryland in mid-March, Callwood said she and the We Cancerve volunteers knew they would have to change things up.
“We realized we wouldn’t be able to do Camp Happy as we usually do, so to make sure that we bring homeless, sick and foster children happiness, we had to find a way to bring Camp Happy to a virtual area.”
The volunteers began brainstorming ideas for videos and activities they could post on the We Cancerve website that would be easy for kids to do no matter where they live and require little, if any, equipment.
“We’ve always looked at it through a lens of accessibility and easiness, making sure we could cater to as many people as possible,” said Sona Kukreja, 18, a volunteer with We Cancerve. “So it’s easier in the sense that we can incorporate more generic items at home, we’re exercising different parts of our mind, and we have to be a little bit more creative.”
Some of the videos they plan to debut on virtual Camp Happy include how to make ice cream, simple science experiments and tutorials on dance moves.
“We are here just trying to restore the simple pleasures of summertime fun,” said Kukreja. “It’s definitely been fun to put our energy virtually in front of a camera and its this new experience that we’re all learning a lot from.”
Callwood said the volunteers were mindful of their language in the videos, understanding that they are still primarily focusing on serving homeless, foster or sick kids. She said they avoided saying things like “ask your parents” or “things at home.”
“We’ve definitely been careful of making sure everyone feels comfortable and welcome and safe and knowing that we thought about them too,” she said.
The virtual Camp Happy videos and activities will be available for free to anyone on the We Cancerve website starting on June 17.
And since Hogan eased restrictions, We Cancerve is considering doing a few, in-person camp days at the organizations they work with while maintaining health and safety measures.