Every in the summer, the sounds of children echo across the Harold Kaufmann Campgrounds, where two camps from the nearby Jewish Community Center operate.
For ten summers, Nataly Hernandez has been among them at Marvin's Camp, an oasis designed for those with developmental disabilities. But a state agency would not permit Marvin's Camp to open earlier this summer — even as it allowed traditional day camps, including one operated here by the JCC — to open.
Lori Hernandez is Nataly's mom.
"All the kids in the community watched the typical kids go to camp and sometimes, in some families, they watched siblings go off to camp, and the special needs community was sort of sidelined and had to stay home,” said Hernandez. “So yeah, it was not ideal.”
The agency, known as the Office of People with Developmental Disabilities, said it considered Marvin's Camp an indoor program. And although it was known as a respite for children who desperately need it, they didn't allow it to open because of the coronavirus threat.
That left Nataly and more than a hundred other campers like her with no place to go.
Yet, because the city has reached Stage Four of its recovery thanks to falling COVID-19 caseloads, the state says camps like Nataly's can reopen, too.
Orit Lender is the CEO of the Jewish Community Center of Staten Island. She said the JCC is excited to open for Marvin's Camp.
"We know it's a shorter camp season, but we'll take it,” Lender said. “And so we're excited to have, you know, a three-to-four week camp option for the families."
Campers will take necessary social distancing precautions.
They'll be assigned to ten-member groups known as family pods, and they'll stick with that pod throughout the day, and avoid interacting with anyone else.
"The science shows that it's safe outdoors, or safer, so if certain protocols are put in place to make it even safer, why not let them be with other kids for the summer,” said Hernandez.
So far, the JCC says 32 students have signed up for Marvin's Camp, significantly less than 165 the camp usually enrolls.
For Nataly, camp came too late. She had to enroll in another program to prepare for school in September, but her mother said she is happy some of her friends can go to camp, even if for just a little while, this summer.