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When COVID-19 forced facilities everywhere to close, most traditional youth programs came to a grinding halt and organizations had to pivot to completely virtual programming. Since mid-March, kids and families have had to adjust to this new normal. However, now that facilities are reopening, helping kids readjust to in-person activities could also prove challenging.

The YMCA of Southern Arizona, with 31 locations in the Tucson, Arizona area, is taking a calculated approach to reintroducing kids back to youth programming over the next few weeks.

“We will be assessing our children and gathering data as we continue to move through the summer to ensure we are meeting the needs of all children we are impacting,” said Carolyn Schwartz, the executive director of youth development at the Southern Arizona Y.

Getting kids involved in physical activities and social situations they haven’t been used to would be challenging enough without physical distancing, but in the current climate, safety is imperative. To ensure they’re keeping kids and staff safe during any activities, the Southern Arizona Y developed a system that facilitates learning opportunities in smaller groups.

“We have been operating our programs by dividing kids into small groups called PODS,” explained Schwartz. “Our emphasis has been on character building and relationship building between staff and children within that POD.”

These PODS have enabled the Southern Arizona Y to host its Summer Enrichment Camp programs — a staple in the Tucson community, according to Schwartz — since late May. Bringing kids back to in-person camp activities has been invaluable for preventing summer learning loss and reintroduction to socialization.

All camp programming consists of science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) projects to encourage fun and learning. “This season’s summer camp offers continued education through STEAM-based learning, memorable experiences with hands-on enrichment, and traditional camp fun,” said Schwartz. “Each week has a different theme kids can look forward to.”

The Summer Enrichment Camp will run through early August, but the Southern Arizona Y is hoping the success of its summer camp program will enable the association to resume youth sports in the fall.

If you’re aiming to resume in-person youth activities, the first step is ensuring you can safely operate the necessary facilities, and the second is determining how you can operate your youth programs within those parameters. The Southern Arizona Y did so, and the result has been engaging and safe youth programming.

“We’ve followed guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), health officials and local government to ensure we could provide our kids with a safe, nurturing experience,” said Schwartz. “We never want to stop serving our families and children.”

Over the next several weeks, state and county guidelines will affect how and when certain facilities can open. However, if you’re able to provide in-person youth programs that abide by CDC standards, they’re absolutely worth offering.

“It is paramount that we continue to provide learning opportunities for our campers that expand their minds and curiosity during this time,” said Schwartz.

Bobby Dyer

Bobby is the former editor of Community Rec Magazine.

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