Person of the Week
Keeping Kids Safe & Happy at Camp Menunkatuck 2020
Camp Menunkatuck Director Megan Wallace is overseeing this summer’s carefully planned program, which follows all COVID-19 safety protocols while still delivering the fun factor for kids. This year, Guilford Parks & Rec’s eight weeks of summer camp is based at Guilford High School. (Photo by Matt Landry-McWilliams )
While Megan Wallace has led Guilford Parks & Recreation’s Camp Menunkatuck for many years, this summer, Megan, together with her assistant director Matt Landry-McWilliams and a team of six counselors, are working especially hard to keep campers safe and happy.
“Did I think I would ever be a camp director in a pandemic? No. But right now, my staff and everyone else involved are proving it can be done,” says Megan, who joined the camp staff in 2013 and has been camp director since 2015.
This summer’s carefully planned program follows all COVID-19 safety protocols while still delivering the fun factor for kids. This 2020 revised camp experience has been developed by Parks & Recreation leaders with cooperation, collaboration, and assistance from the Town of Guilford and Board of Education.
Instead of using Jacobs Beach as its home base, this year, Guilford Parks & Rec’s eight weeks of summer camp is based at Guilford High School (GHS). The program’s weekly camps are offered to kids entering 1st grade through grade 6. Camp costs $150 per week per camper and camp hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Friday (no camp July 3). Campers can be signed up throughout the summer using Parks & Rec’s rolling registration process. To register or for more information, call 203-453-8068 or visit www.guilfordparkrec.com.
Guilford is one of just a handful of towns in the state to decide it would hold a Parks & Rec summer camp program, following the latest guidelines issued by Governor Ned Lamont’s reopening phases. Back in mid-May, Parks & Rec Director Rick Maynard and First Selectman Matt Hoey announced the camp program would take place.
A Team Effort
The news was welcomed by Megan, who had helped to provide input toward making the decision as part of the Parks & Rec team, together with Maynard, Recreation Supervisor Ellen Clow, Recreation Program Coordinator Taryn Erb, and Landry-McWilliams.
“We knew that Guilford would somehow take on the challenge of offering camp this year, and do that, it would need to be a team effort,” says Megan.
Clow oversees Parks & Rec’s camp programs and says Megan, Landry-McWilliams, and the counselors are doing outstanding work to deliver this year’s Camp Menunkatuck experience.
“From my standpoint, they’re the ones that are going to make the summer, with their energy and their enthusiasm and willingness to provide a camp experience for the kids,” says Clow, adding of Megan, “when it comes to summer planning, she goes above and beyond to make sure she’s doing the best she can.”
For Megan, the critical ingredient to making this year’s camp a success is in the hands of her very capable and motivated staff.
“I really felt staff would make or break this camp experience,” says Megan.
She and Landry-McWilliams are proud of their counselors both for their ability to implement COVID-19 protocols and for their ability to give a much-needed social, fun and healthy summer camp experience to kids who’ve been cooped up and isolated since leaving school in mid-March.
“That whole socialization piece for kids—and a big part of that happens in school—has been missing,” says Megan. “So for me, having them be able to come here and socialize was one of the main purposes for having camp this year. It was to really help kids back into that flow of being with friends.”
To set up camp safely at GHS, the staff spent hours training in COVID-19 protocols. Safe distancing, wearing facial masks, and frequent handwashing and disinfecting equipment and touch points are part of the staff’s daily implementation of duties. According to state guidelines, all staff are required to wear facial masks at all times, while campers must have masks that they’ll wear while on buses and in other scenarios where its deemed necessary.
“My staff always wear their masks and they’re constantly cleaning equipment after every use, and disinfecting touch points in the parts of the building we’re in,” says Megan.
She says the support of the facilities staff at GHS, which includes super stepped-up cleaning of areas including restrooms, has been outstanding, as well.
“The custodians have been absolutely wonderful, just fantastic,” says Megan.
She also thanks the schools’ Operations/Facilities Director Clifford Gurnham for providing an array of spaces at the building for the campers. Campers are enjoying use of the main gym, small gym, and wrestling room as well as their assigned group classroom. Each classroom group also has a corresponding restroom assignment. Outside, campers also have access to the school fields.
“A lot of the day is taking place outside and they are highly encouraged to be outside,” says Megan.
Megan says parents are also doing their part to allow Camp Menunkatuck to function safely this summer. Before coming into the building, campers are screened by staff with two virus-related questions when they arrive each day.
“The parents that sign their kids up to come here are extremely accommodating,” says Megan. “They understand that when they drop off their child in the morning, they need to remain in their car; and then the same thing at pick-up.”
A New Experience
During a traditional summer, Camp Menunkatuck averages 125 campers per week. This year’s program cap is 50 campers per week. To meet safety guidelines, the campers are assigned to one group of 10 kids with two counselors. The counselors and their 10 campers then stick together, moving together from activities to other spaces as a group for the entire camp experience.
“They have a daily schedule that’s very similar to camp and the camp activities we’ve always had—cooperative games, sports, arts and crafts,” says Megan. “They’re socializing, they’re happy, they’re outside, they’re running around. They’re tired at the end of the day!”
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, campers set off in separate bus waves, one for each group, for “park days” at the town’s parks. This week, they visited Jacobs Beach, where they were able to enjoy rowing with counselors, swimming, spending time on the beach, and visiting Chittenden Park for exploration and field games.
The first week of camp kicked off on June 22. For a look at how it went, check out the fun video posted at the Town of Guilford Facebook page. Megan credits Landry-McWilliams for making the video, and others like it, so fun to watch.
“He’s the creative one behind it,” she says.
Megan says having the camp video clips pop up on the Facebook page are a way to give residents a window into how Camp Menunkatuck is playing out this year.
“The reason we started doing the videos is to show we can still have fun,” she says. “The kids are still having a good time here at the high school. It does look different; it does look unique. It’s not at Jacobs Beach all summer long. But the videos are showing we’re here, we’re following state guidelines and we’re still having fun doing it.”