Two pods of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at the Auburn Recreation Department’s Summer Camp play dodgeball Monday afternoon at the Hasty Community Center. Campers typically spend half a day inside and half outside at six facilities throughout the city. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

AUBURN — Seven weeks ago, Auburn Recreation Department Summer Camp leaders at Pettingill Park were nervous the camp “wouldn’t work.”

The coronavirus pandemic was at the forefront of every conversation, including those the camp’s staff had in preparation for the eight-week summer program, which began June 22 and finishes this Friday.

Dawna Daigle, the program coordinator, said “camp leaders’ expectations were indifferent going into the summer.” They were nervous about the camp’s chances for success.

The camp leaders at the Pettingill location said the “campers’ grateful attitudes inspired us to make it work,”  according to Daigle. “We learned to come together while staying apart.”

The summer camp program was spread out among six locations across the city. The Pettingill location hosted fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders, as did Auburn Middle School.

Seventh- and eighth-graders spent their weekdays, from 7:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m., at the Ingersoll Turf Facility, adjacent to Pettingill Park.

And Washburn School hosted pre-K and kindergarten students, while first-, second- and third-graders were split between Park Avenue and Walton schools.

Middle schoolers at the Auburn Recreation Department’s Summer Camp make gimp bracelets as others play soccer Monday afternoon at the Ingersoll Turf Facility in Auburn. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Each camp included pods of six to 10 children and a staff member.

“We were grateful for the Auburn School Department on allowing us to use four schools to house our sites,” Daigle said.

Each day at the camp starts with COVID-19 screenings outside of each facility. Body temperature readings are also taken at the end of each day.

The Auburn Recreation Department hired a full-time camp medical provider to focus on COVID-19 protocols and make sure each location was stocked with personal protective equipment, or PPE, and medical supplies.

The Auburn Fire Department helped provide PPE and cleaning supplies.

Kids have some fun Monday afternoon at the Auburn Recreation Department’s Summer Camp. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“Camp was definitely a learning experience for myself and camp staff,” Daigle said. “Our camp leaders had to take their activities and mold them to fit CDC guidelines: Minimal-contact sports and activities that included extensive sanitation before and after use.”

Daigle said her team’s goal was to keep the camp as “normal” as possible for campers and staff members.

“During staff training, we spoke about the importance of mental health during the pandemic and how to be more aware of the well-being of campers as well as themselves,” Daigle said.

“Sites incorporated meditation into their schedule. Activities also included life-size board games, Escape rooms for each pods and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) projects.”

The beginning weeks of the camp that took place during Phase 2 of the state’s reopening process kept the activities in-house, so special guests were brought in, such as Mr. Drew and His Animals Too, Emma Samson Yoga and Artful Nights paint parties. And librarians from the Auburn Public Library visited the younger campers Monday mornings.

When Phase 3 began, campers were able to venture out on trips, mostly to outdoor locations, “which increased the workload and planning for our staff,” Daigle said. “This summer has been a whirlwind.”

Daigle said she has been impressed with how camp leaders at Pettingill have handled this summer’s challenging circumstances.

She said their attitude has been, “It is possible to come together and do something great for the community during these difficult times.”

Next up, according to Daigle: Auburn Rec is planning a Vacation Camp for up to 40 campers next week.

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