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A summer of uncertainty for parents looking to schedule camps for their kids

Some programs are offering refunds, credits and other incentives for parents worried about what will happen if the coronavirus forces the cancellation of summer camps.

Children work on arts projects at Wishcraft Workshop in the North Center neighborhood, where plans for the summer are in flux due to the coronavirus.
Children work on arts projects at Wishcraft Workshop in the North Center neighborhood, where plans for the summer are in flux due to the coronavirus.
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It’s that time of year when many parents — often in a panic — are cobbling together summer camp schedules for their school-age children: Two days at arts camp, another at math, two more at science camp perhaps.

But the coronavirus outbreak has only added to the pressure on stressed-out parents. At camps big and small in the Chicago area, coordinators are making plans for the summer — knowing those plans may have to be scrapped or significantly altered because so much remains unknown.

That’s true also of the Chicago Park District’s summer camp program, which serves about 55,000 kids across the city. Registration is scheduled to begin April 20.

“As we all know, COVID-19 is very fluid; therefore, the Chicago Park District’s response must also be fluid,” said Michele Lemons, a park district spokeswoman. “The district is working with the Chicago Department of Public Health and others to ensure that all programming offered by CPD is aligned with the most current guidance to ensure the health and safety of our patrons.”

Lemons declined to say whether the district would issue refunds. She did say the park district continues to consider “all options” about summer programming.

At other far smaller camp programs across the city and beyond, coordinators are planning for kids — those plans guided, in part, by hope. They are encouraging parents to sign up, even as, in some cases, calls and emails have been reduced to a trickle.

“Since the middle of March, nobody has signed up,” said Brad Greenspan, spokesman for Hi-Five Sports Camp Chicago, which operates out of Whitney Young High School and typically has 200 kids taking part in programs on any given summer day.

The camp is offering a “100 percent refundable $250 deposit” to encourage parents to lock in a place for their kids.

“We plan on strictly following [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] protocol,” Greenspan said.

Cheryle Yallen is the executive director of One in A Hundred, a summer camp in Northbrook that caters to “high-functioning” kids with special needs.

“Until further notice, we’re planning for camp to happen,” Yallen said. “Obviously, that decision will probably be out of our control. … Because our camp begins at the end of June, we have some time to make a final decision.”

Although camp is about 60% full, registration has “slowed down a lot,” Yallen said.

“For us, we would [now] be essentially filled,” Yallen said. “We would have interviews scheduled with children who would fill all the slots. Also by now, we would be starting a waitlist.”

Yallen said she is still figuring out how parents who sign up might be compensated if summer camp schedules are drastically altered or canceled.

Kristina Betke runs the Wishcraft Workshop in North Center — a “creative, confidence-building arts program” with 24 weekly summer camp slots this year. Betke said she’s planning for the possibility kids might need to be in smaller groups.

Betke said she’s about 50 percent booked. If camp has to be canceled, “We will give credits that don’t expire, or they could be transferred.”

“Right now, everybody is sheltering in place and doing the best that they can do. Since the shelter-in-place order, we haven’t seen anyone ask about summer yet,” she added. “But if we could talk to them, we’d like to tell them they should plan for summer 2020.”