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HULL -- After being unable to open last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sunset Point Camp reopened its weeklong summer camp program for children from low-income families, operating this year as a day camp rather than an overnight experience.
A program of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston, Sunset Point Camp hosts children ages six to 13 from Greater Boston and the South Shore. The camp gives them opportunities to learn new skills and have fun experiences they might not be able to in inner cities, such as visiting the beach, kayaking, paddleboarding, and sailing. Other activities include arts and crafts, special events with different themes, and field trips to learn about marine science and local history.
In the summer of 2020, just a year after the camp marked its 100th anniversary, the pandemic prevented them from holding their summer camp program in any form. Instead, volunteers spent two weeks cleaning up and doing projects around the grounds.
"It was nice to be able to do those things, but this place isn't the same without children being here, running around, and it just feels really eerily quiet when no one else is here," camp director Brandon Cox said in an Aug. 5 interview.
Throughout the pandemic, the camp staff stayed in contact with campers' families, and Catholic Charities continued running other programs to help families in need. The food pantries remained open, and they provided assistance for holidays as well as basic expenses, such as rent, mortgage, and utilities bills.
This summer, they determined that Sunset Point Camp could function as a day camp, hosting 25 campers each week -- about half of the number they would usually have in a normal year.
"Just the fact that we have children here every day makes it 10 times better than what we had to go through last summer," Cox said.
Ivana Correia-Veiga, Sunset Point Camp program director, said she initially thought it would be a challenge to transport the children to and from the camp every day, instead of just one trip at the beginning and end of the week. But the daily bus commute went more smoothly than anticipated, as parents were able to drop off and pick up their children at the bus stop at times that fit well around a nine-to-five work schedule.
"Every challenge actually turned out pretty successful," Correia-Veiga said.
Coronavirus screenings were conducted each day for all campers and staff, and protocols were established in case a child was not feeling well -- anyone exhibiting symptoms was isolated and tested for the virus. The children had to wear masks while riding the bus and while indoors, but outside they could go mask-free. For that reason, the camp staff tried to emphasize outdoor activities whenever the weather permitted them.
One of the hardest challenges, Cox said, has been condensing all their usual activities into a shortened timeframe. Instead of having the children stay 24 hours each day, they only had an eight-hour schedule. Activities and events that would usually take place in the evening, such as the talent show and "treasure night," had to be moved to take place during the day.
Another major difference, which Correia-Veiga called an "unfortunate circumstance," is that they could not have any visitors or volunteers at the camp, in order to minimize interaction for contact tracing purposes. Some volunteers dropped off prizes for "treasure night," but they were unable to be part of the campers' experience.
As in past years, the last week of camp was "Buddy Week," when, in partnership with South Shore Special Needs Athletic Partnership (SNAP), the camp hosts children with disabilities.
"We're really excited to be able to keep that going, even amongst everything that's been going on," Cox said.
Correia-Veiga said they are looking forward to staying connected with campers after the summer, and conducting off-season activities with them, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings. They hope next year they will be able to operate Sunset Point Camp as an overnight camp again.
Cox said the fact that they could hold fun activities in a safe way made all the additional work involved in running a day camp worthwhile.
"As long as the children are having fun, that's the number one for me," he said.
More information about Sunset Point Camp is available at www.ccab.org/sunset.