By Ally Conlon and Mitchell Dick

OTTAWA, Ontario — Despite having to rapidly implement restrictive modifications to its typically offered programming, Carleton Athletics operated some of the city’s only summer camp programs without a single positive COVID-19 test from campers or staff.

The year started off with a major bang as summer camp registrations and revenue were on pace to reach a record high by the middle of January. Before the pandemic forced athletics facility closures in March, nearly 3,000 children from across the city were signed up – the department’s highest ever total of campers, representing more than 1 million dollars in revenue.

Needless to day, visions of summer fun with friends were dashed when strict COVID-19 lockdown measures were implemented in the spring. How would summer camp programs look at Carleton University and across the city? Michael Cicchillitti, Assistant Manager of Children and Youth Programs, says his team and the department were determined to find a way to offer some type of recreation service for the community, regardless of the sacrifice. “For a lot of kids, the environment was not very positive for recreational sport. Their childhood is kind of being affected here. Coming to Carleton and seeing their favourite coach or athlete is something they look forward to.” Though aiming to provide alternate camp services of their own, the City of Ottawa was relying heavily on Carleton Athletics to keep this much needed service running for families in the city.

Cicchillitti says that there were countless in-depth meetings and deep discussions within the Athletics Department on whether or not camps could be run safely at all, but everyone involved felt a deep responsibility to the community. The weeks from April to June were spent doggedly working to put together an operations plan that would allow children to safely participate in the Carleton camp program. The department’s proposals outlining protocols were vetted through various levels of approval including the university, the city, and the province.

Ultimately, with some significant operational changes, the plans were approved and a modified camp program was rolled out to the community. Within these camps, the capacity of campers was drastically reduced to accommodate social distancing restrictions. Increased sanitation measures were implemented throughout each of the facilities, with a strict cleaning regiment taking place after each camp session. The pick-up and drop-off locations presented particular logistical problems as they are the most high-traffic areas for parents, campers, employees, and visitors to the campus; these daily processes were highly regulated with specific timing protocols in place for each camp and a required COVID-19 symptom screening form.

In the end the hard work paid off, Cicchillitti says he received significant positive feedback from the community, like this email from Kelly-Ann Johnson, whose daughter couldn’t wait to get back on the basketball court at the Ravens’ Nest.

“I wanted to thank you for all of your efforts to keep moving forward with all of the added Ottawa Public Health and provincial recommendations. You are doing a spectacular job creating a safe environment where the kids can develop great skills and share their love of the game with peers and role models. Attending your program yesterday afternoon was Tori’s highlight of the week! Thank you for all of your efforts! We are so lucky to have Carleton basketball to look forward to!”

Sentiments like this show how much the camps programs mean to the community under pandemic conditions, where general recreation and socializing for children is increasingly difficult. Stana Buyers is the parent of soccer fanatics.  She was thrilled with activities in which her children took part and the safety precautions taken to make it all possible.

“The soccer camp exceeded our expectations with what they had to offer. The coaches were constantly active with the children and ensured that all players got the same opportunities. During each session, the children had rotations where they worked on a variety of skills and it also provided them with an opportunity to meet all of the children involved. Our children could not wait for soccer practice and it was well worth taking time out of our weekend to go and see them enjoy themselves so much!!”

In response to the praise, Cicchillitti is quick to credit his staff, whose effort was paramount to the operation of the modified camps. “It’s easy for me to sit in my air-conditioned office and say, ‘okay we are running camps.’ These staff members had the choice to stay home and collect CERB, but they came to Carleton because they wanted to work and help the kids.” As a result of their efforts, Cicchillitti says the department has produced a viable formula for continuing to offer children’s recreational programs in the fall and winter. “The community has faith that we will continue to do this properly.”

Monday, November 2, 2020 in ,
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