Once they heard that New York State would allow overnight summer camping in 2021, staff at 4-H Camp Shankitunk in Delhi started thinking about Swiss cheese.
The cheese was a metaphor for steps the camp would take to protect campers and staff from COVID-19, said Corrine Tompkins, 4-H camp director at Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) Delaware County. “There are holes in each step. But by layering our safety measures on top of each other, we were doing our best to mitigate at each opportunity and hoping that the holes wouldn’t line up.”
As a first precaution, Camp Shankitunk hosted fewer campers than normal for each six-day session, reducing the number of kids per cabin. It added a sixth week of camp to accommodate all the campers who wanted to attend. Before each session, the camp sent testing kits to families. To be admitted, each camper had to test negative within three days of arrival.
Camp Shankitunk also changed its arrival process. Before, families arrived any time between 2 and 4 pm and stood in various lines to complete the check-in process. In 2021, the camp converted to drive-up check-in and gave each family
a specific appointment.
Another change was a new cohort system, which split campers into five groups per session. “Typically, when our kids come to the program, they can mix and match with anybody in camp,” she explained. This year, campers slept, took classes, ate meals, went swimming and did other activities only with their cohorts. This precaution let campers go mask-free much of the time, although they masked up when entering indoor spaces such as bathrooms, where they might encounter people from outside the cohort.
Other safety measures included no-touch water bottle filling stations, donated by corporate benefactors, and hand washing stations operated by a foot pump.
A $5,000 grant from the Community Foundation paid for electronic thermometers for health screenings. It also provided canopy tents that shielded campers from rain and strong sun, letting them do more of their activities outside than they could have done otherwise.
All the work it took to plan its’ 2021 season paid off handsomely. “We did not have any outbreaks at camp,” Tompkins said. And some of the revised procedures worked so well, they’ll stay in place for the future.
That goes especially for the new arrival protocol, which many families preferred to the old process. “Most families were in and out in 15 or 20 minutes, whereas sometimes, if lines were long, parents could find themselves standing in line for a few hours,” Tompkins said.
Camp Shankitunk is also planning other changes, inspired not by the pandemic, but by a desire to honor a commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility. “We’re talking about trying to do a fund-raising campaign to maybe add more gender-neutral bathrooms to our facility,” Tompkins said. “We’ve also been working hard the last couple of years on scholarship opportunities, so youth can attend. And in some cases, we can even help them get the supplies they need to have a successful experience.”
A Fund for Future Investment
4-H Camp Shankitunk in Delaware County was founded nearly 100 years ago through an act of generosity. In 1927, John D. Clark loaned 4-H Club agent John A. Lennox a piece of land on which to operate a camp. The next year, 4-H and Clark arranged a ten-year lease. Instead of paying rent, 4-H would plant 100 trees on the land each year.
“Generosity has been the cornerstone of what we do at camp for a long time,” said Corrine Tompkins, 4-H Camp director at Cornell Cooperative Extension Delaware County.
Generations of supporters have provided fun and educational summers for campers since then. But Camp Shankitunk needs to make significant investments to keep its facilities in excellent shape, so it can continue to run an up-to-date, high-quali- ty, inclusive program, Tompkins said.
That’s why Cornell Cooperative Extension
(CCE) of Delaware County created the 4-H Camp Shankitunk Fund within the Community Foundation.
The camp will use the fund mainly to support maintenance and capital improvements. For exam- ple, the building that houses the camp’s bathrooms needs a new roof, plus new windows with better ventilation, and the camp wants to add more gen- der-neutral facilities to that building, Tompkins said. “There’s always a cabin group that needs mainte- nance, she added. “And we would love to create another outdoor teaching area.”
CCE aims eventually to build the fund to $150,000, to make it self-sustaining. Its first goal is to raise $20,000 by August, 2023.
“This fund is a place where donors can come together and help keep Camp Shankitunk beau- tiful and accessible for families into the future,” Tompkins said.