Sun beaming, teams cheering in celebration and energy coursing through the field, the campers at Camp Runamuk competed in archery, discus, hurdles and shot put — all a part of Week 9’s very appropriate theme: the Summer Olympics.
Camp Runamuk — held every summer at the Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge for more than 25 years — has a long-standing reputation of providing weeks full of fun for kids ages 4-11. Though this year was brimming with unexpected changes, one thing that hasn’t changed is how much fun the kids are having at camp.
Ensuring that families could count on Camp Runamuk this summer amid the COVID-19 pandemic required immense dedication and planning from the directors and counselors, according to CCLCF leadership. The camp is running for 10 weeks this year, longer than in the past, but with a cap on participation to ensure smaller groups. While the Runamuk program ends at 1 p.m., more specialized camps follow for parents who need all-day care for their kids.
“We really wanted to provide a way for parents to have kids engaged all day long because we know there is a need for that,” said center Executive Director Ethan Stern. “We’ve been very careful and continued to stay up to date on the changing L.A. County health protocols — all of our counselors and staff are vaccinated, for example — and although masks are no longer required inside, campers are outside most of the day, and parents have really gotten a handle on how to educate their kids with mask wearing.”
Although there was a waiting list to participate each week, the center was able to keep the children in cohorts of 10 campers per group.
In explaining how the center adjusted to the continuously changing health protocols, program manager Dani Calderon said, “It hasn’t been easy. But I think that everyone really persevered throughout this pandemic.
“Seeing how the community has been a great support for the Community Center has been an incredible dynamic,” Calderon added. “The Community Center is now returning to a position where we can give back by providing classes and camps.”
Co-lead counselor Ellie Chapman also emphasized, “Above all, the priority is the kids’ safety. The rule right now is that kids only have to wear masks inside. But of course, if they feel more comfortable wearing it all the time, we make sure they know that doing so is more than OK. Our goal is to ensure that the kids feel comfortable and are safe while they have fun.”
Keeping a close eye on COVID guidelines and adapting activities whenever necessary, the counselors — many of whom are local high school and college students — at Camp Runamuk hold frequent staff meetings to plan out creative games and crafts. Counselor Coby Escolano said the strategy helped camp leaders feel good about enforcing protocols.
“I feel we were prepared,” he said. “When guidelines don’t allow kids to touch each other, we use pool noodles for our games that would normally involve tagging.”
Counselor Philip Klemmer agreed, explaining: “We also do household object crafts that kids can re-create at home for the rest of the summer. For example, we made hats out of bowls with streamers off of them and we even made edible slime. And, of course, we do every camp game you could think of using balls, cones and other outdoor supplies.”
Winding down the week last Friday, the young campers said they loved all of these activities — especially dodgeball, which they enthusiastically shouted out as their favorite game. One camper, Avery, described that his winning strategy is “moving super fast to the side or going down instead of just running around in circles.”
Another close contender for the best game at Camp Runamuk is “Simon Says,” according to campers Katie and Brianna.
Throughout the past weeks, the “Runamukers,” as they are fondly called, have become close friends with one another. Camper Naomi shared, “Actually, today is my last day. I’ve been here at camp for the whole summer and I’m so sorry to leave. I don’t want it to be over because I love this place! It’s so perfect. This is where all my friends are.”
The counselors, meanwhile, shared similar sentiments about how much they love being around the kids at Camp Runamuk.
“I think my favorite part of being a counselor is seeing the kids have a great time,” Ariel Krauss explained. “Some of the kids get super excited. When they tell me about how much fun they are having, I just really love hearing stories like that.”
Stellan Klemmer echoed the sentiment.
“For me, it’s my first year as a counselor and I already love it,” she said. “It’s definitely a lot of work, but it is incredibly rewarding and fun. I am excited to come back next summer.”
Chapman described what she feels is special about the experience of being a counselor.
“I love working with the kids and seeing the changes they make over the course of the summer,” she said. “We have some children that are enrolled for all 10 weeks. In particular, we had one very young child who came to camp really shy. Over the weeks, we have seen this camper open up, [make] friends at camp and participate in activities that they didn’t want to try before. Seeing that kind of change in a child, especially when they are very young, is super rewarding. It’s something I truly look forward to over the summer.”
As the activities wound down, the laughter and smiles remained as parents began picking up the children. Those parents also noted how much the camp has helped their children acclimate and reengage this summer.
Emerging from a year of restrictions, Sonia Chan said that having Camp Runamuk as an option “has been amazing. It’s always hard to balance safety and fun, but they have been very safe. I think this has been truly great for the kids and I’m glad they are holding camps this summer.”
With Camp Runamuk a proven staple of summer, the center has learned some valuable lessons during the pandemic and will carry forward its ability to pivot and get creative to meet the needs of local families, Stern said.
“We’ve learned how to adapt, and will definitely be taking many lessons with us,” he added.
The CCLCF will soon begin its fall programming, including a return to activities for seniors. To learn more, visit its website at cclcf.org or call (818) 790-4353.