SF nonprofit, Real Options for City Kids, reinvents summer camp during pandemic

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The changing workplace is one of the aspects we are focusing on as we're Building a Better Bay Area during and after the pandemic. One group forced to join businesses and schools in re-thinking how to provide vital services, is nonprofits that serve young people.

It has been a lonely time for kids isolating at home. Real Options for City Kids, a nonprofit serving young people in San Francisco's Visitacion Valley neighborhood, had to suspend its summer camp program that attracts about 130 elementary and middle school students.

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"Typically our summer camp programs are nine to five every day, so I think we'd be kidding ourselves that we try to replicate that," said Curt Yagi, executive director.

So its staff, kept together by economic recovery funds, have scrambled to devise a virtual summer program from scratch over a series of Zoom calls. It was challenging to figure out what does and doesn't work virtually.

"We would practice the lesson plan in front of each other and see how it came off virtually, and we would give positive or, you know, constructive feedback," explained Gina Patterson, director of programs.

Summer is a time when camp provides social skills development through sports, creative arts projects and reading. It also teaches kids how to share, compromise and communicate.

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That's why Real Options for City Kids, or ROCK, had to do some thoughtful problem-solving, especially when some families don't have internet connections or have limited resources.

There will be live interactive programs as well as others available on demand.

"For those who can't interact like that, we try to do like scavenger hunts or some kind of incentive program that they can then present later to show that they were part of the class or something they actually physically have to do," said Patterson.

Summer camp will be daily this month, then transition to a lighter schedule in July, fulfilling a need as the ROCK staff re-imagined how to achieve the same goals as a traditional camp.

Executive director Yagi noted, "Being able to have opportunities for kids to be social with one another, I think that's really key. Allowing kids who have been cooped up and haven't had their friends over to play... have them see each other."

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