City-run camp meets in Driskell Park after a year of online activities
By Michelle Levine
Hyattsville campers are again filling the one-story building in Driskell Park with squeals of excitement this summer, enjoying the opportunity to spend time with peers in person. Formerly referred to as Camp Magruder, the Hyattsville Summer Camp meets Monday-Friday in the newly named park.
After a pandemic-inspired virtual camp last summer, the City of Hyattsville was eager to bring the city’s largest camp back.
“We knew we needed to get kids back in action in person,” said Saarah Abdul-Rauf, the city’s youth program supervisor. Creating a safe and fun environment for kids this summer was a priority for Abdul-Rauf and her team of coordinators.
The camp runs for a total of nine weeks, ending on Aug. 20. Each one-week session filled within days of registration opening, youth services coordinator John Johnson said. Campers could register for more than one session.
Hyattsville residents pay a fee of $100, while nonresidents pay $125 per week per camper. Abdul-Rauf said there are financial aid opportunities for families who apply and discounts for families enrolling multiple kids. The fees cover the costs of running the camp, including supplies and field trips, while the city pays the employees directly, according to Cheri Everhart, the city’s acting director of community services.
The camp is tailored to elementary school students, the only age group not yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. Safety precautions included limited enrollment numbers, increased cleaning efforts, and indoor mask-wearing. Sixteen campers are divided into the building’s two rooms: one for the older group and one for the younger.
Kids start their day doing a team spirit activity, then move on to either an active game or a craft. Campers have a chance to demonstrate their creativity, inventing games such as Hammer Ball and The Wizard Game, two fan-favorites according to the counselors. On the hottest days, however, most campers seem to prefer sitting under the playground’s pavilion and drawing Pokemon characters while chatting about which Harry Potter spell is their favorite.
Each week is filled with different activities. A variety of community members stop by the camp for special visits, including football player and free agent Travis Hawkins and Hyattsville City Police Department Acting Cpl. Chris Evans, who was accompanied by the department’s facility dog, Nola. On Fridays, the campers come prepared for their weekly field trips by wearing their matching red Hyattsville Summer Camp T-shirts. They’ve taken virtual visits to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, the Maryland Science Center, a local farmhouse and an interactive storyteller.
When asked, the older group agreed that their favorite parts of camp are lunch times and weekly water days, which happen on Wednesdays.
Johnson said he has seen each camper appreciate spending quality time in the actual presence of their peers.
Abdul-Rauf agreed, saying, “I think it’s especially exciting for the younger kids who have not had many real interactions with teachers and other kids because they were online for so long.”
After more than a year of providing virtual activities for kids and teens, city youth programs staff are enjoying the in-person time, as well ― bringing the community even more together.
“We’re really happy to have been able to do our job through this pandemic and be innovative in the way that we have. I think a lot of families were appreciative of what we’ve done,” Abdul-Rauf said. “But we were definitely ready to come back in person. It’s like a new world.”