The coronavirus pandemic means a summer tradition in Vermont looks quite a bit different this summer than it has for more than 30 years, but its mission remains the same: to uplift kids with cancer or ones who beat the disease.
This week, Camp Ta-Kum-Ta in South Hero should be full of kids being kids — on the ropes course, in the cabins, and on the tennis court.
“It’s just a really, really good place,” said camper Katie Kelley of Sutton, who will soon start 10th grade at Lake Region Union High School in Orleans.
The pandemic has Kelley and some 60 others attending camp virtually this week, from home. The week even started with a pre-produced video of the familiar flag raising, complete with a bugler.
Since the 1980s, Ta-Kum-Ta has been the place “to come to” for young Vermonters with cancer, ones receiving care in the state, or locals who beat the disease.
In April, NECN and NBC10 Boston reported how the camp was planning to shift as much of its in-person programming online as possible.
Katie had a form of blood cancer.
“It’s a place where you can meet people who have gone through experiences just like yours, and they’re always there and they’re really supportive of everything you’ve gone through,” Kelley said of Camp Ta-Kum-Ta, which she has attended since she was in elementary school.
The virus forced a rapid transformation of the camp’s offerings, to keep the fun going while protecting staff, volunteers and camper, who may have fragile immune systems because of their treatments.
“The amount of smiles and laughter that has happened the past few days has been incredible to see,” said Dina Dattilio, the program manager for Camp Ta-Kum-Ta.
Going to camp from home means live group chats, supplied arts and crafts kits and an online game that has players navigating the Ta-Kum-Ta property looking for digital tokens. Other activities are being rolled out daily throughout the week, staff said.
Traditions like early morning swims are now interactive. Katie took a leap near her home and shared video with her friends.
“The magic is still happening—it’s just happening differently for our campers,” said Dennis DePaul, the executive director of Camp Ta-Kum-Ta.
DePaul added that the online components will actually stay in the future, as a way to involve kids who are hospitalized.
“Whether they’re in Boston or they’re at UVM Medical, they’re in our virtual programs this year,” DePaul observed of some of his campers. “So this has actually made us better. We’re able to have greater participation.”
Camp Ta-Kum-Ta, of course, wants to return to South Hero next summer with in-person offerings. In the meantime, the non-profit organization is thanking donors and community members who make camp free for kids and their families.