AS DAY ONE OF SUMMER CAMP approached, everything suddenly changed. The COVID numbers in South Carolina (particularly in Charleston) were rapidly rising, and local and national health professionals continued to discourage group gatherings and recommend social distancing. With only seven days remaining before the start of camp, we made the difficult decision to switch from in-person camp to virtual. But what would virtual camp look like? We had seven days to find out.

The Virtual Pivot

Charleston Animal Society summer camp is a remarkable experience. With puppies and kittens, fun games, and arts and crafts, what’s not to like? Our education staff looks forward to camp all year. We stockpile new games and lessons until it is that time again. How were we going to make a virtual summer camp just as successful?

It was easier than we expected. We still had the same adorable animals, the same engaging games, an eager staff, and an incredibly supportive community

The New Game Plan

We knew kids had been oversaturated with virtual content, so we decided to make our camp as interactive as possible while keeping screen time to a minimum (only one hour per day). We filled the time with animals, with fun games that got the kids moving, and with activities which they could easily follow.

Moving from counselor to counselor, each in a different location in the shelter… from animal playtime with Ms. Kylie, to watching a live surgery with Ms. Heather, to painting a cat along with Ms. De, virtual camp exceeded our expectations.

As an added bonus, virtual camp allowed for many new experiences. In past years many shelter areas were off-limits to our campers. This year’s team will never forget the squeals of delight coming from the campers as we took them into our formerly elusive “Puppy Pod” and “Kitten ICU” rooms.

Charleston Animal Society Director of Humane Education Heather Grogan reacting behind the scenes as a spay-neuter surgery takes place live during virtual summer camp.

Build it and They Will Come

We had campers participate from six different states! Kids who would never be able to travel to Charleston for an in-person camp were now experiencing the shelter as if they lived next door.

Even adults were getting a glimpse into summer camp at Charleston Animal Society! We saw parents, grandparents, and babysitters peeking at the screen behind their child, “oohing” and “ahhing” at the animals!

10-year-old Ella Harwedel from Dayton, OH joined the virtual summer camp and wound up adopting a kitten named Ramen after camp ended!
Vivian Glucksman joined the “Pet Pals” summer camp all the way from Winchester, MA.

A Real Life Impact

The impact of the camps was amazing! Families came to the shelter after virtual camp to foster and adopt animals. COVID-19 altered our plans and adversely affected our finances, but by pivoting to overcome these challenges, we were taught new lessons and developed exciting ideas for the future. To learn about humane education for both children and adults, visit our website at CharlestonAnimalSociety.org /for-kids.

Heather Grogan is Charleston Animal Society’s Director of Humane Education