Terri Florek

Terri Florek is the Youth and Family, Aquatics and Y-Kids Director and Volunteer Coordinator at the Greater Marinette-Menominee YMCA.

When I look back on the summer of 2020, COVID-19 won’t be at the forefront of my mind. It definitely played a role in shaping the season, but at the Greater Marinette-Menominee YMCA, summer looked as summer should for the families who took advantage of Summer Camp. We set a goal of spending 90% of our time outdoors, and we crushed it!

Our summer story began in the spring when our community partners supported our mission and vision to provide quality outdoor programming by sharing their treasure. Our staff quickly and diligently shared their talents to put that treasure to good use by creating a versatile outdoor space that from what was previously an underutilized field and forgotten tennis courts. Nine square in the air, tetherball, spikeball and a stage were added, along with several chalkboards to help us assist in lessening summer learning loss. Tents were purchased to further establish a camp atmosphere, and old tires were repurposed as seats around the campfire pit. Teachers shared their resources with our staff for math and literacy activities. All of this amazing adventure and programming took place outdoors, where summer should be spent.

We did, of course, take advantage of our indoor swimming pool, where campers developed their swimming skills at an amazing rate. It was truly gratifying to have them run to me and excitedly tell me that they had either passed to a smaller belt in the pool, or even better — that they had passed the swim test and could swim in the deep end without a belt.

Incredibly, while the rest of the world was fretting about politics and a global pandemic, these campers laughed and played and developed lifelong friendships in the midst of it all. In retrospect, these friendships were made as a result of the pandemic. We created pods, otherwise called small groups, where there was a ratio of no more than nine campers to one staff. Campers stayed with their group all summer, not hopping from group to group, to reduce the chance of a spread of COVID-19. While in their groups, they learned to appreciate each other, care for each other and work through their differences. They learned that a pandemic isn’t the end of life as they knew it, but perhaps could be considered the catalyst that helped them grow.

Campers learned that washing their hands frequently was a blessing on a hot summer day, and wearing a face mask indoors is manageable. Many campers forgot they were wearing them until they tried to take a drink of water.

As camp drew to a close, emotions ran high among staff and campers. It was clear that camp had been a success, and survey results from parents reinforced this. One question asked of parents was “If the YMCA were to offer a camp program during the school year, would your child participate?” The positive responses coupled with community need gave us the incentive to continue to camp program throughout the school year, and Learners Camp opened Sept. 14.

The State of Michigan had the foresight to ease outdoor requirements during the winter months for camp licensees, but our goal will keep us outdoors for seasonal fun such as hiking, snowshoeing, and our favorite campfire Wednesdays. The tents will close for the winter and our homebase areas will move indoors, but we fully intend to take advantage of being located in the UP, and appreciate the natural wonder around us. Homework help will be added to our math and literacy time, and we’ll be swimming twice a week so that we can continue to further our skills.

Learners Camp provides half-day opportunities for students who are virtual learners. The half-day session opens at noon and runs until 5:30 p.m. After-School Learners Camp is available for — you guessed it — after school! Students at Blesch, Central and SJPII can take advantage of busing to the YMCA after school, and we’re hopeful that a funding source will be found to make transportation possible for Marinette students, too. As a team we’ve decided that students who are enrolled with camp will have extended hours available to them on early release and no-school days at no additional fee, because we have so many creative ideas available for programming that we need to embrace those opportunities to engage with campers.

Camp is so much more than child care, and the programming that takes place is the stuff that kids dream of when they go to camp — being outdoors, learning to swim, making new friends, and even s’mores. Of course, we’ll continue our successful patterns of pods, hand-washing and face masks, but those things aren’t our focus. Being a kid at camp goes way beyond those personal care details.

Since joining the team at the Y, I’ve been blessed to make some great memories, and the summer of 2020 added more than I can count. I’m proud to see the relationships built, the skills learned and the fun had will not fade as we continue camp through the school year in an atmosphere full of positive experiences. I’m proud of a staff who chooses these kids each and every day, and I’m proud of our YMCA for investing in families to help them persevere during a time when the world needs it most.

For more information or to register for Learners Camp, visit our website at www.mmymca.org, or call our Welcome Desk at 906-863-9983. I can be emailed at tflorek@mmymca.org. I’m excited to share with you the great things that are happening at our YMCA Learners Camp!

Terri Florek is the Youth and Family, Aquatics and Y-Kids Director and Volunteer Coordinator at the Greater Marinette-Menominee YMCA.