For as long as he can remember, Gabe Bushman favorite part of the year has been summer camp at the Goodhue Community Center. He first started coming to our Staten Island center when he was just 6 years old, and he continued on as a counselor when he turned 16.
“This place is my second home,” Gabe said. “My mom was a single mother, and she sent me here during after school because she has other kids and was doing it by herself. She felt bad she wasn’t with me, but knowing I was here, it was all right. I never wanted to leave. It was always sad when the summer ended. It was always sad leaving this place. I grew up here having the time of my life.”
Last summer, because of the coronavirus pandemic, Goodhue transitioned to remote programming. It was the first time in more than a decade that Gabe, who is now an 18-year-old student at SUNY New Paltz, was unable to spend time at his second home. So he decided to make up for lost time this summer by returning to camp as a counselor once again.
The return of camp has been a highlight of the summer for so many Children’s Aid staff and youth. Our staff worked incredibly hard a year ago to ensure that online offerings were educational, creative, and fun. But for kids, there is something unique and special about being able to spend time in person with their friends.
This summer, at sites from Staten Island to the Bronx and even into Westchester County, we welcomed kids back to camp. We limited attendance and took care to avoid close-contact games like football. We also emphasized regular hand-washing and mask-wearing to keep kids safe. Other than that, it was largely camp as usual.
At Goodhue, kids began their days with special activities like drama, sports, nature, or art. Then they played games like dodgeball or kickball. Then, after lunch, it was time for everyone’s favorite activity: Swimming in the recently renovated Goodhue pool. They rounded out their day with educational time before eating snacks and heading home.
Several sites, including Goodhue, took advantage of the Olympic year by hosting their own version of the Summer Games. At the Dunlevy Milbank Community Center, Maria Brown helped organize Olympic Fridays. She also put together a basketball league, where teams competed for trophies and medals throughout the course of camp.
Although campers weren’t able to take as many excursions as in previous summers, they made it count when they could. Toward the end of camp, Maria and the other staffers at Milbank rented out an entire skating rink for the campers. They even got to make a pit-stop at Sonic on the way home.
As camps came to a close this month, staffers and campers were sad to see the end of such a special summer. But they were all able to end on high notes. At Milbank, they turned on the sprinkler system and let kids have a splash party, followed by pizza, ice cream, and Insomnia cookies.
“One of the kids looked at me and said, ‘This is the best day I’ve ever had in my life,’” Maria said. “The chills came over my body. It felt so good to be back. To see everyone laughing and having so much fun, that’s what it’s all about. That’s why I’m happy. That’s why I’m proud. That’s why I do what I do.”
At Goodhue, Gabe shared a similar sentiment. The closing days of camp reminded him of how important summer camp is for the youth.
“Seeing kids smiling and running and playing every day, it puts a smile on my face,” Gabe said. “That was me at one point. That was the happiest time of my life, and now I get to help kids make their own memories. It’s so special.”