PIEDMONT — Chelle Putzer had no idea Piedmont’s first summer camp of the COVID-19 coronavirus era would be in such high demand.
“In putting this (camp) together, we weren’t even sure whether families would be ready to go to camp,” said Putzer, Piedmont’s recreation director. But such concerns disappeared quickly on registration morning.
“People were prepared and ready to go right at 10 a.m. … Registration filled within seconds of it opening, much to our surprise,” said Putzer, whose department is hosting the first in-person recreation department gathering, called “Camp (Almost) Everything.”
“We offered 102 spots, and we currently have a long wait list, as well,” she added.
In keeping with Alameda County requirements for operating in-person summer camps, Camp (Almost) Everything is a four-week session, with participants in “pods” of 10 to 12 campers who have to stay exclusively with their own pod, and its designated staff leader, throughout the entire session. Keeping small groups together, and separate from other groups, is to make it easier to limit and contain any potential coronavirus outbreaks.
This is a radical departure from the Piedmont Recreation Department’s traditional practice of multiple week-long summer camps.
This first Camp (Almost) Everything will run June 1-25, with sessions at the Hampton and Beach play fields. All camp activities will be outside, and campers (and staff) will have to follow social distancing and hygiene requirements.
Though there are four different time options, based on all-day or half-day and on different days of the week, the four-week duration covers all of them.
Linda Wendel of Piedmont admitted there was some trepidation in sending her 8-year-old and 11-year-old to an in-person summer camp in the midst of the pandemic. But eight years of working with the Rec Department has helped breed trust, and the “pod” system seems like a good way to run a camp under current conditions. The fact the kids were to be drawn from Piedmont’s relatively small population was also a plus.
“Once we heard how the Rec Department was going to be handling everything, it gave us some peace of mind,” Wendel said. “At the end of the day, it just seemed like the safest option.”
“And for obvious reasons, we’re excited they’ll be under someone else’s care for a few hours,” Wendel added.
Just as preparing for June’s camp presented a steep coronavirus-driven learning curve, Piedmont Recreation Department leaders and staffers expect to learn a lot from the camps themselves — what works under the current rules, what doesn’t, what campers find agreeable and not, and whether a good time can be had by all before a full reopening of Bay Area society can happen.
As the Rec Department staff will be learning and evaluating how well the camp works with the social distancing restrictions, parents like Wendel said they’ll be taking notes too, see what works and doesn’t work for their family. “We’ll absolutely see how it goes before we commit to a July camp or an August camp,” she said.
That four-week commitment applies to camp staff. Some part-time city recreation staffers who had been idled since the first shelter-in-place order was enacted in March are returning for camp duty; others have moved on to other opportunities, Putzer said. That has meant limited staff is available for these summer camps. Even so, she said, she and her staff are looking for ways to add a “pod” or two to the June 1 camps by the time they start.
“We definitely are working really hard to meet demand,” Putzer said.
Contact Sam Richards at 925-482-7698