Last summer, the pandemic resulted in the first missed in-person summer camps for Plast Ukrainian Scouting Organization in the U.S.A. For many young scouts it meant a quick pivot to virtual camps, thanks to extraordinary efforts by Regional Camping Committees (OTK), creative counselors and parents, and enthusiastic plastuny (scouts). Since then, scouts have been attending virtual weekly meetings, socially distanced meetups with friends, and Zooming with friends and family – anything to connect with those they have dearly missed.
This year, the Regional Camping Committees (OTK) of multiple Plast campgrounds are working to create and plan camps that can be conducted safely. Their goal is to allow young scouts to safely reunite and reconnect with their friends, take a break from their screens and get out into nature. Nobody ever imagined attending camp wearing a mask, but the campground administrators are working on creating a space where it is safe for campers to return to camp once again.
This summer there will be in-person camps running at Pysanij Kamin in Middlefield, Ohio, at Vovcha Tropa in East Chatham, N.Y., and at Novyi Sokil in North Collins, N.Y., from July 10-24. Planning is underway for other specialized camps throughout the summer. There is also consideration for a virtual camp this summer for those who cannot or decide not to attend in-person camps. This virtual camp is also in the early stages of planning.
This year’s camps will be two weeks, rather than the usual three weeks. The Regional Camping Committees of all three campgrounds have been in constant contact with national Plast leadership and local health departments to ensure they are taking the proper precautions. Additionally, they continue to remain vigilant and are staying up to date with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, which will be strictly enforced at camps this year. All camps will follow similar protocols, the priority being keeping campers and staff safe.
Prior to arrival, everyone attending camp, volunteering or working will be required to isolate and provide a negative COVID-19 test result. In accordance with CDC guidance on overnight camps, COVID-19 vaccination of anyone eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, currently 16 years of age or older and who will be staying on the campgrounds, will be required. Vaccination of all participants of the leadership development camps will also be required.
Before camps start, counselors will participate in required training to make sure they are prepared to create and maintain a safe but fun environment at camp. Once at camp, one of the biggest changes that campers and staff will face this summer is having to wear masks and partake in daily symptom and temperature checks. Masks will be required at all times other than at meals, pool time, showers, while sleeping and designated socially distanced mask-free time. Campers will be assigned to cohorts for purposes of minimizing contact and to facilitate contact tracing should anybody develop symptoms or test positive. To further minimize contact and the risk of COVID-19 transmission, none of the campers or counselors (and all but selected staff) will leave and return to the campground once camp starts.
While there may not be field trips at camp this year, the camp leadership and the counselors are doing everything they can to make this year’s camps memorable. Each camp will still have a theme and camp song. The campers will continue to be encouraged to be active and engage in non-contact/minimum contact activities where social distancing is possible. On those hot summer days, the campers will still be able to cool off in the pool with their cohorts. Camp may feel different this year, but the counselors have a unique opportunity to plan creative new activities that allow plastuny to enjoy each other’s company while remaining safely socially distanced. Additionally, the campers will also be able to participate in the activities they look forward to each year, such as camp fires, crafting, a talent show, merit badges and more.
The head of the Regional Camp Committee at Pysanij Kamin, Stephanie Tatar, is optimistic that camps will take place this summer.
“Our campers’ favorite parts of camp remain: we will gather under the stars for vatras, we will sing our favorite songs, and we will spend time rekindling friendships and forging new ones. No pandemic can take away the camaraderie, the making of incredible memories and the preparation of our future leaders. Our OTK, in conjunction with the [camp] Medical Advisory Committee, are working tirelessly to make this camp a safe, fun and incredibly rewarding experience for our campers,” Ms. Tatar said.
At the training for camp staff, counselors learn to be flexible and to think outside the box. This year, counselors also participated in a new course on recognizing mental health issues and meeting camper and staff needs. The Plast Oath includes that a scout should be level headed, in good spirits and should take initiative. This challenging year has empowered Plast to make the best of what scouts have been taught throughout their years as members of Plast. With that, all Plastuny will work their hardest to make sure that camp this year is the best it can be.
For additional information, readers may visit the Plast U.S.A. website, plastusa.org. Information is also available at the website of each individual camp: Pysanyj Kamin (pysanyjkamin.org), Vovcha Tropa (vovchatropa.org), and Novyi Sokil (novyisokil.org).
Andreya Pencak is the press director for Plast Ukrainian Scouting Organization in the U.S.A.