Martha’s Vineyard Boys and Girls Club campers will be seen out and about on Island this summer, just not in the water.

The reason? None of this year’s counselors are certified lifeguards.

“We had lifeguards last summer, but among the candidates we’ve hired, there’s none interested in lifeguard training this year,” executive director Dhakir Warren said in a recent interview.

The situation puts Mr. Warren and other local camp directors in an uncomfortable yet necessary predicament.

“That’s a real thing,” Felix Neck education manager Josey Kirkland said, “being able to say no when you don’t have the capacity to do something well, instead of bowing to the pressure to show up and do it.”

Over the last two years, Covid-19 protocols have placed a heavy burden on area summer camps, as has fallout from two recent incidents drawing national scrutiny: The July 2021 drowning death of a toddler at the Boathouse and Field Club camp program, and an August 2021 incident at the Chilmark Community Center camp where a Black youth had a tent strap wrapped around his neck by two white youths. Both incidents led to lawsuits, settlements and subsequent calls for reform.

As this summer gets underway, camp directors from the YMCA, Felix Neck’s Fern and Feather Nature Camp, Sense of Wonder Day Camp, the Chilmark Community Center, the Farm Institute and Vineyard Playhouse gathered June 23 for an “All Kids Thrive: Island Camp Summit,” funded by the Martha’s Vineyard Community Services Family Support Center.

Inclusion consultant Kat King, who led sessions, noted that “the purpose is to ensure every child feels welcome and a sense of belonging at camp. We want to ensure that kids don’t have to go off-Island to have a great camp experience.”

With the understanding that “it’s easier to change the environment than change the child,” Ms. King said that means expanding traditional songs and games to be more intentionally inclusive, and working to safeguard campers from abuse and prevention.

At Felix neck, Ms. Kirkland said her camp is also focused on trying to be more “attuned to the different experiences of kids who are coming to camp,” particularly through the lens of diversity, inclusion equity, justice and accountability. “We’re focusing training counselors less on the natural history now and more on DEIJA,” she said.

Ms. Kirkland described “shifts that have happened due to Covid, even just the way we drop off and pick up. Some of these changes have brought more controlled calmness to our program which we feel like folks are really needing.”

The Boys and Girls Club, Felix Neck and YMCA Camp Terre Mare officials all outlined protocols and procedures set by their national umbrella organizations, which are regularly updated. These include requiring CPR and First Aid certification of counselors, employee background checks and annual safety assessments, and having a specific counselor-to-camper ratios and strict cell-phone use policies.

At the Chilmark Community Center, last summer’s incident prompted a lawsuit, a $45,000 settlement and the hiring of a new executive director, as well as pledges to change various policies and procedures. In late June the Chilmark select board heard that those efforts now include expanding inclusive play, ensuring pay equity among staff, increased safety training and building diversity and inclusion at the camp.

Sail Martha’s Vineyard program director Andrew Nutton said that after he took the post in 2017, he focused on revamping staff training and increasing communication.

A nonprofit with an educational mission, Sail MV requires either U.S. Sail, British Royal Yachting, or Irish sailing qualifications from counselors, which includes CPR and First Aid certification, mandates strict counselor-to-camper ratios, a life jacket requirement of all campers, as well as two-way radios and powerboats assigned to sailboats.

“Our environment is far more dynamic than that of a swimming pool,” Mr. Nutton said. “But we are very, very diligent, and we make sure our staff know what they’re doing. We have morning meetings setting parameters in place around children’s skill sets, and debriefs in the afternoon and evening. At no point does a day go by without assessing what’s working and what’s not.”

Along with the Chilmark Community Center settlement, the Field Club’s guilty plea to involuntary manslaughter earlier this month has reignited real and necessary conversations at area camps, officials say.

“We have similar programs, and to just kind of pretend it didn’t happen would be a fault of ours. These are incidents that could happen at any of our camps,” said Kelly Neadow, the YMCA’s director of program operations. “At the end of the day, we’re dealing with the most precious commodity in the world: people’s children.”