GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Summer camps are getting close to starting back up, and the recent mandates to masking and vaccine eligibility are all being factored in.
“Camp professionals just like me are meeting on Zoom calls almost daily it seems like to talk about the latest mandate updates and mask mandates and those kinds of things,” said Luke Gerke, camp director at YMCA Camp Manitou-lin.
Over at the YMCA’s Camp Manitou-lin, they host kids from all over West Michigan along with the greater Chicago area.
The demand for campers is high. But there is an even higher demand for counselors.
“So, that’s actually been the biggest barrier to this summer and it really does break my heart because I feel like camp is needed now more than ever,” he said.
Staffing shortages at the YMCA have required about a 40% reduction in campers this year. Unless it is able to fill some of the openings, that is the way it will stay.
“If you know lifeguards, camp counselors, anybody, kitchen staff, maintenance staff — we need help out here to provide a great summer for campers,” he said. “The recent mandates on masks and capacity limits have changed the look of summer camp this year. But over at the Kroc Center, they’ve got a game plan and they’re sticking to it.”
Jon Shaner, a spokesperson at the Grand Rapids Kroc Center, said their camp plans are typically finalized by March or April.
“And so, to try to add capacity, add counselors, they do a week of training that would be really hard to do in the middle of the summer,” Shaner said.
Both the Kroc and YMCA strongly recommend vaccinating. The Y takes kids up to 17 years old, so it’s also asking parents to recommend the vaccine.
But regardless, they will be doing what they can to keep kids and staff safe.
“We’re still operating with all of the same precautions in place that they have been used to in school and have been used to in many other places,” Shaner said. “We’re just keeping safety at the forefront for those kids throughout the summer.”
Though summer camp will look different than in years past, Gerke says it will still give campers a sense of normalcy.
“Everybody has had a really, really difficult last year and a half,” Gerke said. “And camp is a beautiful place because it really teaches kids to socially interact and work with other people. And I think camp can be a great tool in getting us back to normal.”
The YMCA will raise counselor salaries by about $10 per day to make the job more attractive starting June 10.