Eye on KELOLAND: Summer camp after COVID-19


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — With August right around the corner, kids are getting ready to return to school. For some, that means saying goodbye to summer camp. And it was a season of returns following a summer where COVID-19 halted longstanding traditions and cancellations.

There’s a nostalgic feeling most people get for summer camp. Between the campfires, friends, learning and memories, there’s a reason so many campers return every year.

Destiny Youth Ranch in Alvord, Iowa, has been running for 12 years. It’s a nonprofit, non-denominational camp that uses horses to draw kids in.

“We were trying to figure out a way to get them here. We don’t have a lake to canoe in or fish in or swim in, but we thought—we read a book—and we thought if we get horses, horses and kids are like a magnet almost. And if we get horses, the children will come to camp in Alvord Iowa,” Jason Boer, co-director of Destiny Youth Ranch said.

Boer and his wife, Corilee, run different camps every summer from their own backyard.

“It’s a lot of fun. We have a lot of kids that think, ‘I can’t do this.’ And they’re maybe seven, eight-years-old and when we put them on our horses that are really really kid-safe, they feel a huge sense of accomplishment, that they’ve done something that they didn’t think they could do, and it fills them with confidence,” Boer said.

Campers can do crafts, trail ride, and bunk together for the weekend.

“Part of it is independence from parents, like you get to explore life without your mom and dad or your siblings. But it’s also like fun and enjoyable, it’s great memories, and a lot of campers—at least for Destiny Youth Ranch—like they’ll come back summer after summer and then they’ll volunteer and then they’ll commit. So it’s a growing experience, which I love,” counselor Stephanie Thoen said.

But that experience, was threatened by the pandemic. Thanks to the outdoor nature of the camp, Destiny was able to run last year at half capacity. But some camps weren’t as lucky.

Camp Invention was set to debut at Sioux Falls Lutheran School last summer, but “Mister C”, as some of the teachers called the COVID-19 pandemic, got in the way.

“Okay, we’ll just take one more year and you know, it’s always timing of things. I think it worked out really well for us this year. And we’ll try something new and go from there. Live and learn,” counselor Sarah Sailer said.

So after a momentary setback, the camp opened its doors this summer to pre-kindergarten through 6th grade students.

“Getting the children together, not having to do something virtually, getting their hands on things, getting to show somebody and their friends what it is that they’re making, or maybe teaming up and being a team and deciding. ‘What kind of invention should we make? What should we call it?’ And that collaboration between others is really good,” counselor Peggy Baney said.

Both Sailer and Baney are retired teachers that wanted to help give kids a summer camp filled with curiosity.

“And they try it and if it doesn’t work, they try it again, and if it doesn’t work they try it again. And one little girl said to me, she said, ‘This is my fifth time but I’m not giving up.’ She just kept trying and then she got it,” Baney said.

While the kids were lead with certain activities, they had more time to play around with their own ideas.

“Today, I’ve been working on solar sound, my new headphones that are wireless with a speaker. And they have a solar panel so they can be recharged by the sun if you want to go on a walk or something,” camper Selah Schmidt said.

Despite the differences in the two camps, both organizations wanted their kids to enjoy a summer of fun and learning.

“Summer camp is an opportunity to be intentional on certain subjects, certain areas. It’s free flowing, it’s flexible. It’s just fun. It’s not the regular school day where you’re such on deadlines and time frames. But it’s just a good chance to explore and do something different,” Sailer said.

“I love watching the kids. My favorite thing is actually watching them get to know each other and build relationships, because a lot of these girls—I have thirteen girls in my group—a lot of them have never known each other. And so within maybe 24 hours, half of them are best friends. I was like, ‘This is so cool! This is what camp is all about,'” Thoen said.

Although summer is coming to an end, you can already sign up for next year’s camps.

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