In the City Camps fills void by offering programs online
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Hannah Zale, community outreach coordinator for In the City Camps, leads regular online sessions for virtual campers. CONTRIBUTED
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By H.M. Cauley
For the AJC
Atlanta

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Sheltering-in-place initiatives have forced kids to miss out on end-of-school-year fun, and it looks like their summer might not be all that entertaining, either. Health concerns have put the future of many warm-weather programs and camps in jeopardy.


The folks at In the City Camps looked at the future and asked, “Why wait?” It doesn’t need to be June or July to kick off those crafts, arts and science programs that keep kids busy when school’s out. Instead, in early March, they moved into cyberspace and started signing up virtual campers for a range of activities.

“We see ourselves as innovators,” said CEO Eileen Price. “We focus on connection and quality of the programming, and that allowed us to pivot and do it online quickly.”

In the City Camps launched eight years ago as an alternative to traditional Jewish overnight programs, but the programs are open to children of all faiths. In the past few years, staffers have worked with about 700 youngsters and provided the same summer camp experiences and activities without the sleepover element.

Sessions were held at the Weber School in Sandy Springs and Mary Lin Elementary in Candler Park. For this summer, plans included expanding to the Standard Club in Johns Creek and offering more activities, including an archery team, cheer squad, karate and a ropes course. Instead, sessions for pre-K through fifth grade are now online every day.

“We have over 120 now logging in at 3:30 p.m. when we meet,” said Price. “The sessions are free, and they’re engaging both socially, emotionally and educationally.

We see a lot of kids being fed a lot of content and just being spectators, but our programs are not just entertaining, they’re engaging.”

Students are organized into “bunks,” and staffers check in with them twice a week. “This is just like we’d do at camp,” said Price.

“We’ve hired more counselors, so we have two to three for every 10 to 15 campers.

And if there’s more interest, we can scale up very quickly.”

For five years, Community Outreach Coordinator Hannah Zale has been part of the crew creating the day camp programs, but she had some experience moving those activities online as well.

“A year or two ago, we piloted a virtual camp on a snow day, which became a snow week for a lot of our campers,” she said. “So we saw a need to be online before the coronavirus came. 

We offered active programming like a dance class, a ninja karate class, music, arts and crafts, and it was really successful. We always had this idea of going online in the back of our minds. So when schools started closing, we didn’t waste any time opening up to the community for free.”

During the 30-minute sessions, virtual campers can follow recipes to make snacks, do arts and crafts, conduct science experiments and join in collaborative storytelling.

Earlier this month, an entrepreneur program for tweens kicked off to keep the older set engaged. Parents are kept in the loop with regular emails explaining what students are doing.

While each program is different, Zale says everyone makes connections to the camp’s key principles. “All our programming is value based, so we’re exploring things like kindness, respect, community, collaboration – things everyone, not just campers, should explore.”

Information about In the City Camps is online at inthecitycamps.org. 

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To suggest a story, contact H.M. Cauley at hm_cauley@yahoo.com or 770-744-3042.