Growing up, Camp Dittmer was special to me.
For seven summers in a row as a scout, I attended a week of summer camp at that gem that is located in the Finger Lakes. I followed that up with two full summers as the Nature Director there.
As expected, those weeks and months were full of fun – fishing, boating, shooting, sports, science and so much more. I had a great time and made a lot of friends and memories.
Little did I know at the time, that experience was also laying down a considerable foundation for me. The things I saw and did at Camp Dittmer augmented the intellectual and life lessons provided me by school and family. Summer camp gave me skills that I still use to this day – leadership, public speaking, teaching. I always tell people that I wouldn’t be who I am today without Scouting (Camp Dittmer being a significant part of that).
After graduating from college, my passion never waned for camp. As scoutmaster in my 20s, I took my scouts there every summer. In my 30s and now 40s, I’ve volunteered with the scout council which owns and oversees Dittmer and another camp, Sam Wood.
My goal as a volunteer has always been to ensure children and teens have the same life-changing adventures that I did. That seemed to payoff, as the kids I’ve led or provided services for were having lots of fun and, through the years, I’ve watched many of them grow to become exceptional men. I always think Scouting and camp had a huge part in that.
Those positive vibes and outcomes aren’t unique to Camp Dittmer. You’ll hear others say the same about their beloved summers, whether they attended the Girl Scouts’ Camp Timbercrest, 4-H’s Camp Wyomoco, the church’s Lake Chautauqua Lutheran Center, or many more magical places across the Empire State.
Those places have meant a lot to us. They’ll mean a lot to future generations.
This generation, though? Summer camp might be more meaningful than it ever has been and ever will be. The intertwined world of Covid and government hasn’t been kind kids. They need camp.
The home confinements of last spring, remote learning to close out the last school year, the hybrid and remote learning models of this year, the prolonged absence of sports and clubs, the inability to hug, hang with or even see grandma or grandpa, and the fearmongering of the press and elected officials have all conspired to tear apart the mental and physical well-beings of even the most fortunate of children.
It’s even worse for those not lucky enough live in a loving and positive home. No doubt you’ve heard of the explosive growth in societal ills because of the pandemic’s stressors. Domestic violence, substance abuse and violent crime all rose dramatically last year. Kids were sequestered with those who may not be the best people for them. Maybe they were abused physically and mentally, perhaps they saw dad beat mom, they could have witnessed their mother go down a deep path of drug use. The people those poor souls see outside their homes – teachers, coaches, scout leaders, camp counselors – may be the only positive, respectful and loving adults in their lives. Real heroes, important heroes, to them.
Just like everything else, summer camps were canceled and/or not allowed last year. In the brevity of childhood, a summer lost is a considerable lost opportunity. They’ll never get it back and they can never make it up. That’s lost growth for all kids and lost positivity for those who really need it. For the latter (kids from troubled homes) summer camp might be the only happy, carefree week of their whole year.
All that said, we who run summer camps, parents who put their kids into them, and the children who dream of them need action by the Governor and other state officials.
We need a stamp of approval, and a vision for what camp would look like…now. In the whole scheme of things, summer really isn’t too far away. Camp directors need to plan programs, hire personnel, purchase resources and design Covid protocols. Families need to set aside funds. Clubs and troops need to hold fundraisers. Kids everywhere need something to dream of to get through the pandemic’s miseries.
First and foremost should be the State’s acknowledgement that camp can be done safely.
Schools around the world have shown that environments chock full of children haven’t been a measurable source of spread. Also, the population has become accustomed to the rules and practices of Covid mitigation – this isn’t the strange, new world that it may have been last June; it’s now old hat.
Then, the state must provide the game plan to open.
The rules are there in many sectors; they just need revision and application to the world of resident camps. In an important development, the State has already approved a testing model for weddings (getting tested for Covid beforehand) that would, if equally applied to camps, allay any fears parents and staff might have of community spread at or from the campground.
The science, experience and resources are available to open camps. More importantly, the need is there, too. Kids need camp in their lives, badly. Let’s not deny them a chance at a better summer. Let’s not deny them a chance at a better life.
We can do it.
Albany just has to let us do it.
From the 08 February 2021 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News