STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In a year full of unprecedented times, the Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation department saw an unprecedented moment of its own when the city’s annual summer day camp filled up in 30 seconds.
While the camp is always busy, spots normally fill up in 30 to 45 minutes. Parks and Recreation staff attributed the popularity of this year’s program to both COVID-19 restrictions and more difficulty than usual in hiring day camp staffers because of the Steamboat’s high cost of living and housing shortages.
“The one thing we bring up in every interview we do is have you looked into the cost of living here and are you able to find housing?” said Megan Troiani, Parks and Recreation youth and teen recreation supervisor. “It’s very challenging for people to find housing here.”
The city will be able to accept more kids into the day camp program if they can hire more staffers. There are currently 185 children on the waitlist, though that number is the combined total between each age group — kindergarten, first and second grades and third through fifth grades.
“This is a way to keep parents and families employed and working and keep kids active and participating in activities as much as possible,” said Alexis Wolf, the city’s recreation manager. “All of those things go toward keeping a healthy economic community with parents working and kids being busy.”
Angela Pleshe, program leader at First Impressions of Routt County, said lack of day care options is a problem across the county, as demand tends to outweigh the number of day care options.
“There is a severe shortage of care, certainly for infants and toddlers and preschoolers but also for school-aged care,” Pleshe said. “It’s incredible how quickly these camps fill up.”
In a year where children’s lives have been dramatically shaken up due to school quarantines and lack of social interaction, Pleshe said outdoor, COVID-19-safe summer camps are particularly important for helping kids feel a sense of normalcy.
“If kids can get out this summer, get into some programming that offers some academic enrichment activities, just getting back into that sense of normalcy and being with their peers, will help,” Pleshe said. “Being able to go places will help them get back into their mindset of what normal life is supposed to look like again.”
Pleshe added the return to normalcy will be particularly important for kids this summer, as schools are expected to return to in-person learning and many students have fallen behind both academically and socially.
“The pandemic, just causing the extra stressors in people’s lives, has set some kids behind in maturing,” Pleshe said. “I can’t imagine the nervousness and anxiety they’re feeling about what school is going to look like in the fall.”
Troiani said those interested in working for city summer camps must be at least 18 years old and have 480 hours of experience working with children. Staffers must also be trained in CPR, though the city can train them after they are hired.
“If we can find more staff, we can help the community and get back to work,” Troiani said. “We’re looking for someone that’s motivated to work with children and has a passion for working with children.”
The city needs to hire at least five more staff members to accommodate the kids already enrolled, Troiani said, though they hope to hire more and accept kids from the long waitlists.
“For the kids just to get the social interaction and start to get back into feeling normal is really important,” Troiani said. “This will be a great summer to get us as close to back to normal that we can.”
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.