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Welcome back to Wonderland

Camp Wonderland has been a part of Jennifer Forster’s life for so many years that, even during COVID-19, she couldn’t process the thought of canceling camp for the summer.

“I was holding out that maybe we’ll do something, even if it’s small,” Forster, camp director for Wonderland.

When Massachusetts authorities closed all overnight camps for the 2020 season, Forster and the camp staff stayed active at the campsite. They shot videos and hosted virtual events for families that had sent children to camp for years.

“We did skit nights and other programs and put them on the web for the families. For weeks, I sent out emails to remind them that we were still here and thinking about all of them,” says Forster. She received many replies from the families. They thanked her for the ministry at Wonderland and for keeping the connection open during COVID–19.

“We know grandparents who came to Camp Wonderland as kids, and now they bring their own grandchildren too. For many of them, summer camp was their first experience with The Salvation Army. We did not want to lose the connection with those families, not even for one summer.”

 

Open for summer learning

In June 2021, Wonderland will once again welcome campers as COVID–19 restrictions and positive cases diminish across the country. Massachusetts has some of the strictest rules and regulations for summer camps, but Forster says they are glad to have guidelines from experts on how to run the camp successfully. “We want parents to know that we’re opening, and we’re doing it as safely as possible,” says Forster.

Upon arrival, campers and counselors will be tested and later retested. Groups of campers living in cabins will function as a family unit, which means that they will be allowed to socialize without masks among each other and in their cabins. Group activities such as eating meals and swimming at the waterfront will now be done by having cabin units take turns. They will rotate shifts, rather than show up in large groups as was done in past years.

Camp organizers are also taking steps to address the loss of summer learning opportunities among its campers, especially for those who have had limited school hours and lacked in-person learning sessions.

“Camps have always been a place for summer learning, so it isn’t new to us,” says Forster. “But we’re putting in programs that are specifically focused on new learning initiatives. For example, a staff member who majors in engineering will host a STEM program and introduce campers to coding, problem solving, and even some robotics activities.”

Another new initiative will be cabin book clubs for campers. An 8th grade English teacher on the Camp Wonderland staff will use a curriculum and a lesson plan to assign a different book each week to the cabin groups.

“Even more than other years, Wonderland is going to be a preview of what it will be like for children being in school again,” says Forster. “There will be learning, but also socializing in groups. Schools create an automatic community of teachers, students, and friends. That’s a void that camp can fill immediately.”

 

The people’s camp

Forster remembers the heartbreaking feeling last summer of being in an empty camp, but knowing that they had the space to provide a socially distanced outdoor experience, had they been allowed to do so. Nonetheless, Forster says she can take a positive move forward.

“When you’ve been a part of something like Camp Wonderland for so long as I have, it can be nice to be in a new situation and see how you can still make it work, and make it work well,” says Forster. “I can either throw up my hands in a panic, or I can gather my staff and reassure them that we can all do this together.

“To me, camp is not just a place where I am,” says Foster “It’s about the people in it, both campers and staff. The staff here goes above and beyond for Wonderland. Thanks to them, Camp Wonderland is going to look a little different this year, but we are all grateful to be here once again.”

by Hugo Bravo

For more information on Camp Wonderland, visit www.campwonderland.org.

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