"It completely turned our world upside down," said Eduardo A. Caballero, co-founder and executive director of Camp EDMO, which has been operating summer camps in the San Francisco Bay Area for 17 years.
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When officials issued a stay-at-home order, Caballero and his team had to re-imagine their business.
"We gathered our team to do a design challenge of a lifetime, which was to create that same camp experience that kids would have in person and translate it into the online virtual world," explained Caballero.
Virtual camps require a lot more participation from parents than past years when they simply dropped off their kids at camp and picked them up hours later.
Karen Dayan's three children are Camp EDMO veterans. Her oldest son started 12 years ago. Her youngest son, Adam Frey, is taking classes this year.
"Yesterday we had one that was more self-sufficient. Today was more involved," said Dayan, as she watched over Adam in her Los Altos kitchen. Adam is joining a class that is making a volcano using a water bottle, dough and food coloring.
Dayan helped Adam log in, she gathered all the supplies he needed for the activity and checked up on him to make sure he wasn't making a mess and was following the instructions.
"The kids get used to the online camp. They're actually interacting with kids on chat and with the instructors too. It is definitely not the same but there is a good vibe with EDMO.
The process begins with the camper signing into Zoom and joining a virtual waiting room. A camp counselor welcomes the kids and makes sure their cameras are on and that they are on the roster. They then play a silly game or do a cheer before they break off into groups.
Even though the state has allowed in person camps to begin in the middle of June, Camp EDMO is staying with an all virtual summer camp. It usually holds camps in schools, however, those facilities are unavailable as schools try to figure out how to welcome kids back in the fall. Despite these obstacles, Camp EDMO is still offering half-day and full-day camp sessions. Kids take part in an activity, play active games, sing songs or play games together like a traditional camp. None of the sessions are pre-recorded.
"We wanted to do a program that was live. With real humans really connecting with kids," said Caballero. "You can do an app or make a pre-recorded video, but how long is your kid really going to watch that. What happens if they get frustrated. We can respond to that."
Camp EDMO is also offering one-hour drop-in sessions. Caballero said it is for parents who need to take part in a meeting or simply need some quiet time. The child can be entertained in a class with a live counselor instead of just watching a video. Changing to virtual camps has allowed Camp EDMO to increase its class offerings. It has started a family cooking class to more than a dozen families from her San Francisco kitchen.
"I think there is an opportunity there to create a relationship with the kids and learn some things about us in the process while we are making a meal," said Minori.
Classes aren't limited to Bay Area children like before. Caballero said kids have joined from states like Texas and Florida, and from countries like Singapore, Tokyo and India.
Camp EDMO, which operates as a non-profit, offers an honor pricing system. Families who can't pay the full fee can get instant discounts of 50 and 80 percent. They don't need to apply for financial aid. They simply type in a code listed on the website to get the discount.
"It's a system based on human dignity and trust. So, we trust that if you can afford $15 an hour, you will pay $15 an hour so that another child that can't can also access this program instantly," said Caballero.
One in ten families signing up for Camp EDMO have been donating extra money to help offset the cost for lower income families.
To learn more about honor system pricing, visit the Camp EDMO website.
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