On Friday, staffers from Camp Hochelaga in South Hero called 58 families whose children were signed up for its day camp with bad news. The program, which was slated to run weekdays until August 13, would be canceled for the rest of the summer, starting on Monday.
In a message posted on its Facebook page, the camp blamed staffing shortages for the decision to cancel. Many staff members had told the camp before the season started that they would have to leave their positions early for college. The camp believed it would be able to "backfill" those positions before staffers departed, but hiring proved too difficult.
"This decision was not taken lightly as we know how much our families rely upon us for childcare during the summer months," the announcement read. "We apologize for the inconvenience this has caused for you and your camper. All families that are affected by this decision will be fully refunded their tuition."
Cutting camp short "was not a decision we really wanted to make," said Patty Houston, board president of the nonprofit YWCA Vermont, which runs the camp.
Founded in 1919, Camp Hochelaga is for girls and nonbinary youth and is intended to be a safe and happy environment where campers can learn and experience the outdoors, Houston said. The sleepover — or residential — camp will run the next two weeks as planned, Houston said.
A series of staffing issues affected the day camp, according to YWCA executive director Deb Jorschick. The day camp director developed an illness — unrelated to COVID-19 — and was given doctor's orders to sit out the last two weeks of camp, she said. Of the remaining five day camp staffers, some had told the camp ahead of time that they needed to leave the program early and some made last-minute decisions to leave, according to Jorschick.
"As a collective group, they had to go," she said. "We just had no alternative" but to end the day camp.
Houston said that it was difficult to break the news to campers' families. "We had some families who were really understanding and some who were frustrated and angry," she said. "I know they were not easy conversations for any of us."
This isn't the first hurdle Camp Hochelaga has faced this summer. In early July, the camp announced that residential camp director Alana Matteson was leaving; she was replaced by assistant camp director Shannon Pritzkau on an interim basis. Jorschick declined to comment further about Matteson's departure, citing personnel issues, but said that Pritzkau has done a great job in the director role.
Houston and Jorschick both said that this season has brought unique challenges, on top of the labor shortage.
While "all in all, the kids are happy," Jorschick said, she's also seen an uptick in behavioral issues and sleep disruptions this summer, which she attributed to the pandemic.
"What's become apparent to us is, there's a lot of kids that have been traumatized over this past year," Houston said.
Camp leadership will take lessons learned form this summer and use them "to make sure camp is able to evolve and grow," she added.