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Article Published May 12, 2021

Wheeler Offers Summer Camp Thrills at Soundview YMCA

By Pam Johnson/Zip06.com

Last year at about this time, Soundview Family YMCA was one of this area’s only organizations gearing up to offer in-person, COVID-conscious kids’ day camps throughout the summer of 2020. That’s why Soundview Y’s Youth & Family Director Lynn Wheeler is prepared—and thrilled—to meet this summer’s pent-up demand for its weekly in-person kids’ day camps.

Soundview Y’s weekly Camp Nonoma program is set to deliver a great camp experience for kids aged 3 to 15 this summer. Registration opened in February and is continuing now for weekly camps set for June, July, and August at Soundview Y’s campus at 628 Main Street in Branford. This year, the first week of camp will be offered beginning June 21. The camp will follow all current pandemic safety and sanitization guidelines.

“We’re really excited, and the kids really need it. They’ve had a really tough year. Who would have imagined that kids these days would have had to deal with a pandemic?” Lynn asks. “They really need that socialization, and to just be kids, and to not have to worry about things. And that’s our goal: to make sure the campers are comfortable and their parents are comfortable bringing them to camp.”

Speaking of parents, registration numbers are climbing up the charts as word of the Y’s weekly day camp programs continues to spread. All camp information, registration details, and more can be found at soundviewymca.org (click on “Soundview YMCA 2021 Daycamp Brochure” and the Registration link for more information).

“Parents are not holding back!” says Lynn. “This is probably one of our best years for early sign ups. We serve families from East Haven to Madison, and our Branford, North Branford, and Guilford [families]—they tend to go for last-minute [registration]. But this year, that has not been the case. We actually had the most registrations, when we opened up on Feb. 1, than we’ve had in many years. They see the need for a place for their kids that’s safe.”

The good news? Last year’s camp capacity caps have been lifted, and there are still plenty of spaces available for more campers, says Lynn.

“We still have openings. Last year, the state capped us at 80 kids. This year, they are not capping us at all, which is great, because we have a lot of space,” says Lynn.

While signing up soon is recommended, if openings exist, parents can sign their kids up as late as a week before a camp is set to begin.

“We close out sign ups the Wednesday before the following week’s camp,” says Lynn. “But we did find that last year, and especially this year, a lot of parents are signing up for the whole summer to make sure that their kids have a place to go. A lot of parents are just going back to work and can’t take any time off. So they want to make sure their kids are in a safe environment while they have to go to work.”

In addition to Soundview Y’s modern facility, which includes two indoor pools, fitness rooms, and other activity spaces, campers get to enjoy the great outdoors at the site, too, notes Lynn.

“We have outdoor activities like our high ropes course, low ropes course, [and] archery, and we also have a lot of woods area,” says Lynn of the Y’s wide swath of woods on the property, which back up to a neighboring natural property owned by Van Wilgen’s Garden Center in North Branford.

“Van Wilgens allows us to use their pond for nature [programs] and fishing,” says Lynn. “And we have so much stuff in the woods, you can have whole camp of 150 kids, and you’d never see them!

Kids spend plenty of time outside during camp to play and enjoy activities including arts and crafts and sports (which Lynn is hoping this year will be allowed to be played by kids without wearing facial masks). Masks still be worn inside and during other camp activities where state protocols mandate.

“We keep them pretty busy,” says Lynn. “We work very hard at keeping the kids outside most of the time, and we realize it can get hot in the summer. Just going into the woods in the summer time takes the temperature down 10 degrees.”

The youngest campers rotate indoors for activities on very hot days.

This year, campers of all ages are going to be doing quite a bit of swimming, too, says Lynn.

“All the kids are going to have swim lessons this year, Monday through Thursday, and then Friday they’ll have free swim. So that’s exciting, also, because it’s a life skill,” says Lynn. “And we’re very fortunate that we have two pools here, so we’re able to give the lessons to the kids each day. I think it’s so important because a lot of kids didn’t get to get that last summer, because of COVID.”

It’s important to note that families do not have to be members of Soundview Y to sign their children up for camp.

“We have two rates, the community rate and the membership rate,” says Lynn.

With a rate difference of about $100 per camp, Lynn encourages any parent considering signing up at the community rate for more than one week of camp to have their camper become a Soundview Y youth member.

“To become a youth member is only $29 a month, and that saves big on those weeks of camp,” she says.

In addition, families who may not otherwise be able to afford to finance their child’s camp experience may qualify for assistance, including pandemic supportive Care for Kids state assistance.

“For those who qualify for Care for Kids, camp is free to them this year, or there will be a minimal cost. The governor had stated from April until September that Care for Kids would cover any childcare, and that included camp,” says Lynn.

Those earning income that may not make the cut-off to qualify for Care for Kids but are still in need of financial help to send their kids to camp may be able to receive financial aid offered through Soundview YMCA. Information for Y-based financial aid and details on qualifications to receive Care for Kids support can be found at the camp page at soundviewymca.org.

Have a Great Summer

Soundview Y’s flexibility of offering weekly summer camps allows families to plan for trips and other needs on their calendar.

“The nice thing is they don’t have to sign up for the whole summer. They can pick and choose the weeks they want,” says Lynn.

Because this is, after all, a summer camp experience, Soundview Y is big on creating different themes for each week to help make the experience fun and memorable.

“We have Wacky Wednesdays, when the staff will dress up, and we also encourage the kids to dress up, in the theme of the week, and we’ll have different games and activities focused on that,” such as Superheroes week, says Lynn. “And then we have Fantastic Fridays, where we’ll do a Slip and Slide and any other games that can get them wet—water balloons, sprinklers...you name it.”

Soundview Y’s teen counselors help make camp fun, too. Lynn invites teens 16 and up who are interested in working as a camp counselor to click on “Job Opportunities” at Central Connecticut Coast Y’s (CCCY) website cccymca.org (be sure to select the Branford YMCA location).

“We definitely are considering hiring more counselors,” says Lynn, adding that training is provided. “They go through 40 hours of training before we even start camp. It’s also fun to see [campers] grow up and want to become camp counselors, and we offer the Counselors in Training [CIT] program, which unfortunately we couldn’t do last year because of COVID. But we have a couple of kids who’ve already signed up for CIT this year. It’s very exciting to have the program back this year.”

Many Benefits at the Y

Lynn got her start with the Y as a staffer with Valley Shore YMCA in Westbrook before going on to build Norwalk YMCA’s former aquatics program as its aquatics director, then later joining Soundview Y.

“I grew up on the shoreline. I love the shoreline,” says Lynn, a Killingworth native and current resident of New Haven. “I’m excited that our Y offers services all the way from Madison down to East Haven. We have vacation clubs throughout the school year that bring kids from all the different towns. With kids being in remote learning, we opened a remote learning center in Madison; we had kids here [at Soundview] from Guilford, Branford, North Branford, New Haven, and East Haven, because they needed the support while their parents went to work.”

Lynn says everyone is looking forward to seeing kids come back for Soundview Y’s summer camps beginning in June.

“It’s busy here, but we’re ready to have everyone back,” says Lynn. “The kids really need it, and the parents really need to have peace of mind as they go back to work.”

She adds there’s really no place else like the YMCA.

“That’s the one uniqueness about a Y, as opposed to going to a gym that’s usually focused on adults,” she says. “We have classes for kids. There are a lot of opportunities to be a family or to come and do your classes and come back together. The Y is unique in that way. You don’t get that in other places.”