All over the world, summer camps and other programs made a significant pivot due to COVID-19. Some programs canceled and some went virtual. For Rainbows’ children with special needs and their families, summer camp is not only a fun-filled time of activities and growth, it is a necessity that allows parents to work, attend classes and take care of others in the home.
Rainbows’ Camp Woodchuck Summer Day Program typically serves 115 school-aged children with special needs by providing a summer camp experience that children and youth are unable to get anywhere else due to their unique individual needs.
Rainbows’ summer program provides not only a memorable experience but also a safe experience for the “campers”. “Even though it was different this year, the highlight is that we had another successful Camp,” said Camp Director Tiffany Graf. “We continued to serve families. That is our main goal and we succeeded.”
Because Camp could not bring groups of vulnerable individuals together in the common spaces at Rainbows’ Kids’ Cove facility this year did not mean that Camp would not take place. “As always our team worked together to make it happen,” said Tiffany. “It took everyone on our team plus some others. Once the decision was made to take Camp to individual family homes, we had about 2 weeks to transition Camp Woodchuck to Woodchuck Adventure 2020, an in-home summer program. We knew we could do this because we provide services in the family home year round. This pivot would combine our Camp and in-home program in a special way for several weeks to meet family needs.”
“By reaching out to families about the new option, Lynlea Southards and I were able to strengthen relationships with families and gain a greater understanding of their needs during this unique time,” said Tiffany. “As needs were identified, Family Support Services team members worked to secure funding; Human Resources helped with hiring; and many other people helped or offered to help from all departments. It was pretty awesome.”
The summer staff were specially trained to meet the challenges of Camp in the family home during the pandemic. Health and safety, emergency procedures, behavior training, HIPPA, technology and CPR certification were among the many classes each staff member completed before the summer services began.
“In order to create this new Camp experience, we had to be creative, think outside of the box and try new things we had never tried before,” said Tiffany. Staff members at Kids’ Cove gathered supplies such as scissors, crayons, popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners and construction paper. They made a schedule of activities and put them on a Google drive set up after a brainstorming collaboration with our Marketing Department. This allowed in-home staff to access videos and special activities designed specifically for them. They posted a supply list and instructions for campers to make things like sensory items, slime, dough, bubbles and chalk. Once supplies were gathered, an assembly line was used to make the packets which were then picked up by the in-home staff on Friday afternoon or Monday morning.
Camp Woodchuck special events are a favorite part every summer. “This year Tiffany Sallee came in and used all her talents to make sure the special events happened,” said Tiffany. “She collected pictures and videos from the in-home staff that they uploaded to the Google drive for Rainbows’ Marketing Assistant Isaac Penner to create a presentation of the results to share.”
For the Fashion Show, staff captured pictures of the kids’ outfits that they decided to wear. “We usually go to Goodwill and pick out something, but this year the kids got to shop in the closets in their own homes. They modeled ties, fancy shirts, feathers and bling and favorite sports team jerseys.”
For the Talent Show, staff helped the kids decide what their talent would be. Some kids danced, break danced, sang, played an instrument, made smoothies, showed a talented smile and much more.
For the Art Show, we provided each child a canvas and paint. The in-home staff helped the kids find their creative side. Tiffany S. asked them to think outside the box, and boy did they! Some kids painted the canvas and added beads, drew art which was then glued to a canvas, or added feathers to create their masterpieces.
“Tiffany S. and Isaac worked very closely together to make this all come together,” said Tiffany. “Tiffany S. gathered and oversaw everything, and then Isaac did Isaac and made GREAT VIDEOS. He edited, added graphics and sound and made the videos look professional. This took a lot of time and it truly paid off. This was amazing.”
Woodchuck Adventure 2020 was truly an adventure serving 58 children with special needs and their families and providing stability as well as memories for a lifetime during a summer of COVID-19 uncertainty.