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Maui’s summer youth programs adjust to a new reality

                                Kids put their artistic skills on display at last year’s Camp Kaluanui at Hui No‘eau Visual Arts Center in Makawao.
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Kids put their artistic skills on display at last year’s Camp Kaluanui at Hui No‘eau Visual Arts Center in Makawao.

It’s been more than two months since the Maui Family YMCA temporarily closed its doors in res­ponse to the COVID-19 outbreak, but Mike Morris says the empty fitness rooms and hushed hallways still catch him off guard.

“I don’t think I could ever get used to it,” he said.

Morris is president and CEO of the Maui Family YMCA, which is more than a gym; it also offers a variety of programs for adults and youths, including a summer day camp program. If this were going to be a typical summer, around 200 kids would stream into the YMCA’s Kahului facility every weekday morning.

But this summer is shaping up to be anything but typical.

For the first time in 25 years, the Maui Family YMCA is canceling its day camp program — but the agency still will be helping a smaller number of kids make summer memories.

In March the nonprofit launched an emergency child care program for hospital employees, first responders and other essential workers. Since then it has provided weekday care for children ages 4 to 12 and will continue to do so throughout the summer.

Enrollment is capped at 20, and all participants — kids and staff members — follow health and safety protocols issued by the county, state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among other things, they undergo daily temperature checks, wear masks and maintain social distancing throughout the day.

Teaching kids as young as 4 to stay 6 feet apart can be a challenge, but Morris says the staff members invented fun and creative ways to enforce the rule. “It’s been a learning experience for everyone,” he said.

Like Morris, Josh Duinker had to readjust on the fly. Duinker is executive director of Vertical Sports Maui, a nonprofit organization that hosts the annual basketballMAUI camp in June. Since 2010 more than 1,000 youths have attended the weeklong day camp, where they learn basketball skills and life lessons from college players and coaches.

In light of COVID-19, Duinker made the difficult decision to cancel this year’s camp but quickly devised a Plan B. Since early April, Vertical Sports Maui has been holding weekly virtual basketball skills and strength and conditioning clinics for kids ages 7 to 18 on the Zoom videoconferencing platform; it added a baseball skills clinic last week.

The hourlong “Vertical Sports Online” clinics are free and include a 45-minute training session, followed by a 15-minute group discussion. Duinker said the virtual clinics will continue until it is safe to conduct them in person.

The same goes for the Pacific Whale Foundation, which will offer a free online version of its summer Ocean Camp.

“Our virtual program will provide campers with fun, engaging learning opportunities, creative crafts, along with opportunities for interaction and collaboration with other campers,” explained Pacific Whale Foundation Education Manager Robyn Ehrlich. “We feel that it is important for children to have opportunities to build and strengthen their connection to and appreciation for the ocean, even if they can’t physically be there.”

The Virtual Ocean Camp will begin June 15, and there will be two weekly sessions: June 15-19 and 22-26. The program will include daily Zoom sessions and optional daily activities that can be completed offline.

“We will continue to assess the situation to determine when and how we can safely resume offering a face-to-face version of our program,” Ehrlich said.

For other programs the near future is still a bit uncertain.

“We are remaining optimistic for summer camp,” said Lana Coryell, program director at Hui No‘eau Visual Arts Center in Makawao, which offers two annual summer programs: Camp Kaluanui for kids ages 6 to 10 and its Art Academy for teens and tweens.

Coryell said the hui is following all county, state and CDC guidelines and is looking at ways to restructure the Art Academy program. But it is also planning and preparing to hold Camp Kaluanui as scheduled in June, if permitted.

“Right now we are planning to reduce class sizes, increase sanitization practices and create greater distance between youth workstations,” she explained.

Registration for Camp Kaluanui is underway, and Coryell said she’s hoping for the best.

“It is a bit hard to know exactly what to expect this summer, so we are staying flexible and remaining focused on serving the community,” she said. “As we begin the recovery process, it will be especially critical for children to have opportunities to experience social connection and a sense of community belonging while practicing self-expression and emotional regulation. The visual arts are uniquely suited to create safe ways for children to connect with one other and express their emotions in positive ways.”

Popular Summer PALS Program on hold until further notice

Parents desperate for summer day care won’t be able to rely on Maui County’s popular Summer PALS Program, which is on hold until further notice, according to Chris Sugidono, assistant communications director for Mayor Michael Victorino.

He said county officials are working with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Maui, county youth centers and other partners on summer programs and other services to provide child care for working families. “We hope to announce formalized plans in the near future,” Sugidono said Thursday.

He said that since March the county’s Early Childhood Resource Center has been coordinating child care services for essential workers through PATCH (People Attentive to Children) Maui. Essential workers in need of child care for children under the age of 6 may contact PATCH Maui at 242-9232 or email mfelicilda@patch-hawaii.org or lsnyder@patch-hawaii.org. Workers also may call the county at 242-1608 or email mauiecrc@gmail.com. Check for updates on the Department of Parks and Recreation’s PALS website at mauicounty.gov/589/PALS-Program or call 270-7404.

— Star-Advertiser staff

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