This summer will be a mess. Now is the time to plan, create, and fill the need.
The American summer is marked by family vacations, trips, fun days, beach visits, and more. With so much else happening, many institutional programs like church youth groups, scouts, and sports teams take a summer program hiatus. In an effort to keep folks engaged and balance summer commitments, it’s not uncommon to compensate for this hiatus with an action packed week at camp, vacation bible school, summer fun days, or a service trip. This is sometimes even the highlight of the program year! However, the spread of novel coronavirus has thrown all of these summer plans into total pandemonium. International flights are canceled, camps are closed, and vacation plans are being canceled left and right. With some schools already out for the summer, the situation grows more chaotic by the day. Now is the time for wise program leaders to plan for creative approaches to program offerings, and fill the gap, especially for working parents unsure how to keep their kids busy all summer.
According to the American Camping Association, each summer more than 14 million youth and adults go away to camp. This year some states which have banned overnight camps all together. In other states, restrictions are in place prohibiting camps from opening until part of the way through the summer, with many camp directors questioning the fiscal viability of opening for a partial season. The camps that do open are adding costs for PPE, additional staff and safety protocols, while seeing skyrocketing demand for childcare. Despite this, there are still plenty of questions about whether the majority of parents will feel safe sending their children, regardless of local or state policy.
Research by Robert Wuthnow suggests that more than 2 million Americans go on church mission trips annually. Nearly 60% of those travel internationally. For those operating domestically, traditional worksites such as soup kitchens, homeless shelters, building ministries, and outreach programs are canceling trips and closing their doors to volunteer groups – to protect clients and operations.
And finally, AAA reports that a whopping 100 million Americans take a family vacation each year. With the current layoffs, furloughs and job uncertainty, that number is likely to fall dramatically in 2020. People’s summer plans are being impacted, and they are hunting for alternatives.
For parents with children at home, the prospect of a summer without camp, trips, or vacation can be daunting, especially for those who are simultaneously trying to work. Some innovative youth programs are going virtual, recreating camp online. However, even in the face of a pandemic, many parents are wary of plunking their kids down in front of a screen for the whole summer. Parents will be desperately looking for options, both in person and online. What’s a program leader to do?
Right now is the time to be creative and develop options to engage your participants throughout the summer. Even if you don’t normally run much summer programming, there definitely will be a demand for this in 2020. Below are some tips on how you can prepare and offer something meaningful to your constituents.
Develop options that accommodate appropriate social distancing. Any kind of in-person programming will need to consider how to keep people healthy and safe. If this is you, make sure you’re thinking ahead about accommodations for space and sanitation. Choose activities that can be done outside. Sanitize your equipment regularly. Set up hand washing stations. Consider what PPE you’ll need on hand. Activities like laser tag or building individual sand castles allow folks to space out.
Be creative and try new things. Don’t be afraid to offer something new. People want options and solutions right now. Think outside the box. Brainstorm with others, come up with crazy ideas. Put yourself in a kid’s shoes right now – how would you want to be engaged this summer, given what’s happening? At Incredible Days, we’ve transitioned to offering Virtual Mission Trips, allowing youth groups to serve and learn from the safety of their homes. Check out our webpage to see if this might be a good option for your group!
Equip yourself with good digital tools and resources. These have proliferated exponentially since the outbreak. So have articles about the best ones, along with educational resources about how to use them. Talk to teachers, since they’re in the know. There are lots of ways to play games, watch movies, or go on digital adventures together. Check out ZoomJam to find interactive resources for Zoom-based activities, including escape rooms, games, and educational content.
Incorporate physical activity however you can. Parents want physical activities for their children over the summer and kids certainly have lots of energy to burn off. Try putting together a GooseChase virtual scavenger hunt where youth must search around for things. Send everyone a podcast and tell them they have to exercise while they listen to it. Then hold a follow up group chat. Guardian Adventures offers interactive storytelling with play and lots of physical engagement. A crafty storyteller could create their own.
Reach out in partnership. There’s lots of wisdom and experience available out there. Camps, sports programs and churches are freeing up resources as they cancel programs. Good people with youth experience are looking for opportunities. Is it possible to build a virtual church school program, and then collaborate with other local congregations to share it widely? Consider the long term. Might a partnership that you build today in this context be a long term partnership with mutual benefit for years to come? Networking and conversations might feel like an investment of time and energy that cannot be afforded on top of everything else right now, but they’re more important than ever. Take the time to reach out to local organizations that you know are canceling programs and see how you can work together to support each other.
Communicate with your families now. Whatever you do, tell your families now that you’re going to provide them with options. Be in contact consistently. Don’t wait until you have all the pieces in place. It’s ok to be honest if you’re not sure how everything is going to play out. Honesty is important right now. Your families will appreciate that you’re trying to meet their needs and getting the word out early helps drive enrollment in whatever you end up doing.
Most of all, remember that by adapting to the circumstances you’re better serving your participants and you’re ensuring the long term health of your programs. Summer is here and it’s time to act now. Instead of spending energy trying to figure out how to run your traditional programs given the circumstances, take a step back and ask – how can I best serve the community I work with right now? Those needs are going to become even more acute in the coming weeks. Take the time now to plan something amazing and deliver it. Your families will thank you for it.