From summer camp to full-time adult programming: Camp Gencheff adapting to COVID-19

Facing pandemic restrictions and a tight budget, Camp Gencheff found a way to keep its doors open while meeting a need for full-time adult programming.

As funding sources dry up and pandemic restrictions limit overnight camps, Camp Gencheff adapts

Camp Gencheff's summer camp will wrap Aug. 28, after which, the facility will be used mainly for adult programming five days a week. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

Facing pandemic restrictions and a tight budget, Camp Gencheff found a way to keep its doors open while meeting a need for full-time adult programming.

The camp, which opened in 1961, is nestled on the shores of the Northumberland Strait in Stratford, P.E.I. It normally provides an overnight summer camp for children and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities and weekend respite care twice a month throughout the winter. 

But when COVID-19 arrived, the camp was forced to make some changes.

Due to pandemic restrictions, the camp can no longer offer overnight care or meals. The solution: to open a day camp for school-aged children this summer. 

Children bring a lunch from home and camp counsellors wear masks and full personal protective equipment when helping a camper with personal care. Dorms have been turned into special areas for specific children to go if they need space away from the group.  

Camp Gencheff is located in Stratford, with a view of the Northumberland Strait. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC )

The summer day camp opened for six children on June 1 and quickly grew to host 37 campers. 

"This was really a bit of a trial for us to figure out if it was functional," said the camp's executive director Elysia Hickox. 

"And it's been incredibly successful, more than we actually ever hoped."

Funding situation 'tenuous'

Hickox said the camp wanted to make better use of its facility, which is fully accessible year-round. And with COVID-19 hampering fundraising efforts, the organization needed a way to help cover its costs through the winter. 

Alan Brown and his son Michael Brown have been long-time supporters of Camp Gencheff. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

"This is providing some coverage that allows our overhead costs to be somewhat covered and it allows us to meet our mandate," said Alan Brown, who is treasurer on the board of directors for the camp and a parent who's been involved in the camp for decades. 

"We've had a long history," he said. 

"Our history this year is a little bit different because our sources of funding are drying up and our programs have to change." 

Elysia Hickox is executive director of Camp Gencheff and has been involved with the camp for the last 17 years. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

Brown said the pandemic has slowed fundraising efforts for the camp. Some events that usually bring in money have been cancelled and some are happening virtually. He called the funding situation, "tenous."

"When we look at the future, we used to look at planning next summer's camp. Right now, we're planning next month. Beyond that, we have to just wait and see," said Brown.

Teaching life skills 

At the end of August, the summer camp will wrap up and staff will take a break before opening five days a week, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for day programming for adults. 

"Day to day going forward we're going to be focusing on quality of life," said Hickox. 

"We're going to do life skills, we're going to try to do resume building, mock interviews, that sort of thing. And we're also going to focus on cleaning, like how to do your laundry, how to fold your laundry, a little bit of budgeting, exercising, and we'll be doing cooking classes."

Timothy, a camper at Camp Gencheff's summer day camp, holds up one of his latest pieces of art he completed while at camp. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

The program will also teach clients good hygiene practices, handwashing and maintaining physical distance from others. 

Hickox said the program will fill a need. She said some other adult programs have scaled back their size or time frame to respond to COVID-19 guidelines and the camp saw it as a good opportunity to step in to offer parents a break. 

"There are a lot of parents that have not had a day's break from their adult child," said Hickox. 

"As they are adults, the parents are aging, and still aren't really able to get the support in the house, and then not able to get back into their regular programs that they would rely on for years."

To support the change in programming, the camp is planning to hire up to 15 staff. It's looking for people with experience in the field and human services graduates. 

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