CONWAY — With nearly two weeks in the book for the annual Conway Parks and Recreation Department’s summer camp, officials could not be more pleased with how things are going. There have been no reported cases of COVID-19 among the children and staff. In fact, the camp continues to grow in size.
Director John Eastman said Wednesday there are currently 141 children, ages 6-14, from Albany and Conway signed up and he’s expecting two more to join next week.
The camp, which started June 29, is scheduled to run until Aug. 14, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m-4 p.m. Early drop-off starts at 8 a.m. and late pickup up is at 5 p.m.
“I think it’s going really well,” Eastman said. “The kids seem to be enjoying themselves, and we’ve gotten a ton of good responses from parents.”
Wednesday was kayak day for the campers in Pequawket Pond. “We just walk across the street and can kayak, thanks to Peter Gagne of Saco Canoe Rental, who has generously donated 15 kayaks and lifejackets for us to use every Wednesday,” Eastman said.
Eastman said the daily arrival and check-in by children with Kelsey MacMillan, the COVID-19 screener for Conway Rec. has gone smoothly.
“The wellness check has become part of our new normal,” he said. “Every day, Kelsey and Todd (Gallagher, Teen Center coordinator) are out there. The first day, at 8 a.m., there were probably 15-20 cars backed up. It took us about 15 minutes to move everyone through. Now people know the protocol, and things flow well.”
Children have their temperatures checked, and parents are asked, “Does your child currently have any of the following flu-like or COVID-19 symptoms? Chills? Vomiting? Diarrhea? Sore throat? Shortness of breath? Cough? Fever? Muscle aches?” They are also asked if their child has been out of state in the past 14 days.
If the answers are all “no,” and the child does not have a fever, they are ready to start their day.
“We have the same protocol for everyone,” Eastman said. “The staff, counselors, even the parks guys if they come into the building, go through the wellness checks.”
Rain the first two days of camp sent the kids inside, which Eastman said proved to the staff that children can be indoors and social distance. Eastman said children enter into the building through a side door (on the Conway Elementary School side of the facility), meet with other members of their pods in separate locations. The children remain in these pods and stay with their counselors throughout the week.
There are 15 counselors along with Robby Moody, who is the full-time programming coordinator for Conway Rec. “Because our numbers are little smaller than in the past (there were 275 campers last year),” Eastman said, “we’re able to have 14 counselors work in groups of two with their group of kids. That leaves two counselors, who we rotate every week, to be on the cleaning duty.”
Eastman said as part of the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act), the town has gotten rubber gloves, masks, higher-grade paper towels and hospital-strength sanitizer. The Rec also spent $1,600 on six additional tents beyond the 20-foot-by-40-foot tent it has on the school grounds to distance everyone outside during lunch and other activities. Conway Rec also has a contracted a cleaning company clean the facility after hours, four hours a night, five days a week.
“The two counselors (on cleaning duty) spray and wipe down everything from the railings in the building to all of the athletic equipment,” he said. “We played floor hockey yesterday, and all of the sticks and even the ball were wiped down. If it gets used, it gets wiped down.”
The camp is being viewed as a model for the return to school within SAU 9 and SAU 13 and by other summer camps.
Eastman said the community continues to reach out, asking how it can support the camp.
“I’ve been amazed by the kindness of people,” Eastman said. “The Friends of Rec has done a great job with all of the donations we’ve received for the scholarship fund.” With camp costing $300 for the seven weeks, Eastman said a citizen sponsored 10 children for camp, writing a check for $3,000.
“We’ve had people call up and want to sponsor a child or even two children,” Eastman said. “Pat and Brenda Murphy of Apex Plumbing have also stepped up and helped out. The White Mountains Moose Lodge 2705 gave us enough money to almost sponsor three kids.
“If these organizations and people hadn’t stepped up, we wouldn’t be able to help as may families as we have,” he said. “We know this pandemic has impacted families and there have been parents who have not been able to work. Every family who receives scholarship funding also has their skin in the game, paying at least the deposit for their child. We want everyone to be committed.”
Eastman admitted the scholarship fund is getting low.
“People call asking if they can donate food, but we’re all set there,” he said. “We could use a little help with the scholarships. Even if people gave us $25 it would help. If 12 people give $25, that’s a summer’s worth of camp for a child. It adds up. We want every child who wants to be able to attend camp to do so.”
Asked about a highlight, the fact there is camp this summer is it for Eastman.
“Who would have thought in January that a pandemic would affect so many lives?” he said. “In March, I was really nervous. I didn’t know what would happen to Conway Rec. We had to think outside the box and trust that we could make it work. We’re a week and a half into this, and so far, so good.”