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Who will take care of the kids this summer? Day camps want to

Most of the Town of Orchard Park's summer recreation programs were sold out by March 1, before things shut down because of Covid-19.

Some parents have asked for their money back. But with the effort to reopen the economy, many are hoping day camps will open.

Some town recreation directors said their programs and day camps are not just recreation but an important support to working parents when children are out of school in the summer.

"The question will be, when people are asked to go back to work, who will take care of their kids?" said Martin Denecke, directer of Hamburg Youth, Recreation and Senior Services. "We’re really child care when you talk about the camps."

"We have, on any given day, 500 to 600 kids in paid programs, aquatic and nonaquatic," said Ed Leak, director of recreation and parks for the Town of Orchard Park. "That alone reflects the need and demand and quality of our programs."

As Western New York checks the metrics of the phased reopening of businesses, program directors at camps are wondering when and if they can open. So far, recreation is in the last phase of reopening, but they are making the case that it's part of an essential child care system when people go back to work.

Watch now: How to read New York's 'dashboard' for reopening

Some, such as the Girl Scouts, have already canceled their camps.  The West Seneca Town Board canceled the town's summer day camp programming, although it plans to revisit how to handle the town pool operations at its next meeting.

"I’ve had contacts with many municipal recreation directors around the area," Denecke said. "We’re all asking the same questions: Do you think we’ll be able to run our camps?"

And if the camps are allowed to operate, how will they guarantee the safety of the children?

With plenty of space and lots of hand washing.

Recreation directors are already thinking about that. Amherst plans to open its day camps June 29, unless it hears differently.

"We have six different locations, we’re going to be running a reduced capacity at each of those locations," said Youth and Recreation Executive Director Mary-Diana Pouli. "We are following all the CDC guidelines."

That will include taking the temperature of children and staff, and dividing children into groups of 10, with two staff members. The group will stay together the entire day, and spend as much time as possible outside.

"There will be no field trips, no swimming, but there's still going to be tons of fun," she said.

In Hamburg, there are acres to spread out at the recreation center on Lakeview Road, and the ice arena can be used during inclement weather, Denecke said.

In Orchard Park, activities were to take place this summer at Orchard Park High School and at Yates Park/Green Lake. Leak said the new community activities center also could be a hub on rainy days.

But directors need a little advance notice to hire and train the staff in new protocols.

"I hire about 125 in the summer, mostly college students," Leak said. "They’re chomping at the bit to work."

Recreation directors said they are sharing information and best practices with each other.

"We're in contact with each other, weekly, if not daily," Pouli said. "We're trying to all figure this out on our own."


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