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An in-depth look at our region's emerging economic, social, political and cultural identity.

YMCA Tries Virtual Spring Camp Options And Crosses Fingers For Summer

YMCA of Greater Charlotte
Students prepare for virtual swim class.

If this were a normal spring break, hundreds of kids from across the Charlotte region would be in YMCA camps.

The YMCA of Greater Charlottenormally hosts 13 spring break camps in Mecklenburg, Union, Iredell and Lincoln counties. The coronavirus has closed them all.

"So our hearts are breaking because of that, but then we also know that this is the best thing right now," says Adrianne Hobbs, executive director of youth development for the Y.

The only in-person children’s event going on now is an emergency child-care program for Atrium and Novant health care workers, serving 70 or 80 kids a day at eight locations in Mecklenburg County. That’s compared with almost 1,000 for normal spring break camps.

"Those children who are with us are actually getting a taste of some of those spring break activities that we would generally have," Hobbs says, "of course, with the social distancing in place and much smaller group size."

But for the hundreds who are staying home, the Y is trying to enrich the experience with things like a five-day virtual spring break. It features video tours of places like Rome and Disney World, where kids can experience rides like Pirates of the Caribbean and Space Mountain.

There's a virtual home school, a virtual preschool and an online dance class.

"We are also doing some dry land swim team virtual classes," Hobb says, which always raises some eyebrows. She says it's pretty much exercises to keep young swimmers in shape. "So we are definitely exploring places that we have never been before."

The biggest question now is summer camps. The YMCA is taking registration now and looking at protocols to keep everyone safe, assuming the state gives the all-clear for real-life camp. But Hobbs said the Y is also looking at what can be done online, "whether we’re talking about virtual parent orientations, or virtual open houses, to potentially even virtual summer camp."

Hobbs says that may be needed even if stay-at-home orders are lifted. Some parents and kids will be eager for the real camp experience, "but then others may still be wanting to keep their children away from groups, and we understand that, so we’re also looking at some virtual experiences that we can provide."

Hobbs says going to camp is about making memories. And one way or another, this will be a memorable camp season.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.