At the Martha’s Vineyard Boys and Girls Club on Monday, children arrived for their first day of camp with backpacks hiked high on their shoulders and baseball caps secure on their heads. They formed small groups to begin icebreaker activities, gathering near a sign that read Welcome, Sejam Bem Vindos and talking excitedly together as their friends continued to arrive.

The day marked a milestone for both the campers and counselors who had not gathered in-person for nearly 114 days, since the organization closed its doors in March due to the pandemic.

The Boys and Girls Club is a pillar of the Island’s childcare programs and one of the few camps open this summer. Beginning this week, the club will run its annual summer programming for Island children five days a week through the end of August, free of charge.

Executive director Jessie Damroth said staying closed was not an option.

“Reopening was never a question of if, it was a question of when,” she said. “Kids need to get out and socialize, they need that space...and they need a safe environment.”

Camp is not just for the children, Ms. Damroth added. Summer childcare benefits the entire Island community by allowing parents the flexibility to return to work.

Campers are placed in pods that they will remain with for the summer. — Maria Thibodeau

“It’s an investment in our Island,” Ms. Damroth said.

Club leaders voted unanimously to waive camp tuition, as well as the $20 annual membership fee, for all families until June 2021. The decision was made as part of the organization’s Covid initiative, a program for which they have raised roughly $730,000 of their target $750,000 since commencing in April.

Though back in business, camp looked a lot different. Instead of a group-format, campers were separated into eight-person pods, each led by two counselors and named for a different beach on the Island. Campers will stay with their pods throughout the summer.

In accordance with the state’s Early Education and Care safety guidelines, campers and teachers will have to adapt to new health measures such as undergoing temperature checks upon arrival, wearing masks throughout the day, and leaving lunches and snacks at home. The building has undergone significant changes since it was last open, with each classroom, bathroom and hallway renovated and rearranged to meet social distancing standards.

According to Ms. Damroth, the new program includes social distancing and Covid-awareness lessons which she hopes will better prepare students and teachers for the realities of eventually returning to school.

“Overall, I hope this helps reduce anxiety about going back into school in the fall because if you have leaders who can say ‘I went back to childcare and I was okay,’ they can help calm other people,” she said.

Campers and counselors get to know each other on the first day. — Maria Thibodeau

Beyond safety measures, the curriculum this summer is more educationally-focused than in previous years. The club has adapted the program to address issues related to students missing out on classroom instruction this spring, said Ms. Damroth.

This week, campers are focusing on Island exploration, learning about the Island’s geography and building landmarks on the property throughout the day. As part of the new curriculum, the Boys and Girls Club has teamed up with other nonprofits, such as the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival and the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, to create additional activities for campers.

As to be expected, there have been challenges in reopening camp amidst the pandemic. New health guidelines have meant fewer spots in the program this year—the camp was able to enroll only 66 of their usual 112 campers. Staffing the program also posed significant challenges for an organization that relies on volunteer help. The club typically enlists 400 volunteers a year, but state health guidelines along with the complications of traveling have seriously curtailed this resource.

According to Ms. Damroth, the club has been able to overcome these challenges with the help of staff members at every level of the organization. The group has worked tirelessly over Zoom and now in-person to prepare for the reopening.

“We’re very much a team at the heart of everything we do,” she said.

Ms. Damroth smiled as she watched the children head off with their pods to the sports field to begin their day.

“My biggest hope is that they have a blast,” she said.