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A different world, a different camp. (A Place to Share).

I know I'm not the only camp director who experiences both excitement and anxiety as the registration process begins for the upcoming summer season. Confident that my camp is stocked with a multitude of activities and events to keep kids engaged, entranced, and empowered, I send out my registration materials with hopes of fast and furious returns. Early on in the process, a day without a returned form always starts me second-guessing. Are the other local camps getting bombarded with deposit checks while I wait twenty-four hours before checking the mailbox once again? This scenario has played Out every fall season since I became a camp director and, though I consider myself secure and confident in my planning and marketing abilities, I'm never fully relaxed until the registration forms start coining in at breakneck speed. Every year it's the same game. Every year I laugh at myself for falling for it. This year, however, I'm not laughing quite so hard.

Since the atrocities of September 11th, all of our lives have changed in some capacity or another. My initial reactions were home-based and personal. I knew two of the victims personally, as well as a woman who lost her husband. I quickly contacted a police officer friend I hadn't spoken to in months, just to see if she were alive. Like most everyone else, my astonishment and subsequent concern and fear were focused on my family and friends. Now I realize that I have greater concerns than ever about the upcoming camp season. My trepidation far outweighs any I've felt in the past. The days of worrying about simple things like grouping requests and rainy-day activities are over. My unease is suddenly rooted in security issues and the inconceivable questions that camp directors are now forced to ask themselves. How can we provide maximum protection for our campers and staff with the most minimal disruption of our programming, and will parents feel comfortable sending their children to our camp this summer?

I run four camps at a Jewish Community Center in Westchester County, New York, two of which are travel camps. Since September 11th, the scope of travel has changed dramatically. Suddenly, I have to avoid booking trips to major cities, and the thought of getting on a plane is simply out of the question. Where we once took our campers to big cities and on exciting tours, our priorities are completely different now. Though the likelihood of an act of violence is very slim, we will not even entertain the idea of traveling to major cities. Parents need their children in safe havens this summer, so instead we've chosen to visit more benign locales - the Catskills, Cape Cod, and Niagara Falls. I remember telling parents last summer that we were considering flying the kids to Disney World this season - not a chance.

My other two camps are general day camps whose home base is the Community Center itself. I assume, and I think I'm correct, that most parents will feel comfortable knowing that their children will spend their summer wrapped in the safe arms of our building. But what I always defined as safe and as safeguards may not meet today's standards. They've changed since 9/11.

My campers and counselors have always worn color-coded T-shirts so they are easily recognizable in the building. Each group and its staff wear a particular color. This summer we will change the tradition that's been in place since the camp's inception. Staff will wear brightly colored shirts with "CAMP STAFF" written in large letters on the back. Why change tradition? Because in case of emergency, campers as well as building staff must be able to identify camp staff immediately. It was always assumed that the college kid walking around in the navy or kelly green tee shirt was camp staff. We can no longer afford to make assumptions.

My colleague who runs the Arts Camp at the Center has a decision to make this summer as well. The Arts Camp has never required the kids to wear camp T-shirts (to celebrate the individuality and self-expression of each child) but this summer, campers and counselors will wear our shirts. Once again, should we need to gather the campers in a hurry, we want to be sure all of them are easily identifiable.

The upcoming summer season will be a titanic challenge for camp directors. There is no question that we can all meet the challenges that our new and "different world" has placed before us, but many things will have to change. Parents will be more anxious than ever before and will look to all of us to help ease their tension. The good news is the one thing that we all strive for is exactly what sustains us and gives us the power to press ahead during this difficult time - the smiling faces of children who can't wait to wake up each summer morning to spend the day with us at camp.

Allison Horn is the Director of Children's Programs and Camping for the Jewish Community Center of Mid-Westchester in Scarsdale, New York.
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Title Annotation:camp director reflects on changes in procedure in light of September 11 terrorist attacks
Author:Horn, Allison
Publication:Camping Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Mar 1, 2002
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