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After Camp Spaulding closure, Child and Family Services work to help those affected

When any camp closes, it’s likely a disappointment to the children who would have attended, but Camp Spaulding is not just any camp.

The Penacook facility works with Child and Family Services to offer discounted or free stays to children from low-income families and those with incarcerated parents. It is a haven for kids who might not otherwise be able to participate in this kind of summer pastime, and when a bedbug infestation was discovered last month, it hit some families especially hard and left many scrambling to find alternatives.

The bedbug outbreak was discovered during the first session of camp, and – after an inspection found evidence of the bugs in a majority of the camp’s cabins – officials decided they had no choice but to close for the three remaining sessions this summer. At the time, camp officials said they wanted to make sure the facilities were thoroughly cleaned in order to assess any potential renovations that might prevent future infestations and to avoid spreading bedbugs to campers’ homes.

About 210 kids were set to attend the remaining sessions, and the cancellation created challenges for those families who were relying on the camp session to provide safe supervision to their children for a few weeks. The outbreak also created other issues, such as a need to replace personal items.

In addition to its role as a summer camp, Camp Spaulding also served as a reliable and affordable source of day care to parents who might have trouble affording it, said Cynthia Travis with the Parenting Plus program. She has worked with plenty of families, affiliated with Camp Spaulding and otherwise, who struggle to pay for the child care they need in order to be able to work and support their families.

“Many of them don’t work for that very reason because they can’t even break even,” Travis said.

Travis and Ryan Barrieau, a program manager with the Therapeutic Day Treatment Program, helped a handful of the families affected by the cancellation. About 60 of the children signed up for the remaining sessions were directly overseen by Child and Family Services, said Communications Director Kat Strange, and social workers played a critical role in helping their families with the cancellation.

Travis and Barrieu assisted families who had scheduled medical procedures around the camp session, who didn’t have a network of family members nearby to help out with baby-sitting and who were counting on this two-week getaway for their children.

“Camp is an opportunity for them to get away and have a great experience and also for parents to know kids are somewhere safe, to know their needs are getting met – a respite,” Barrieu said.

Fortunately, they said, they were able to connect the kids with child care paid for through the Parenting Plus program and other day camp-style alternatives.

Barrieu said campers who attended the summer’s first session also encountered their own challenges – lost clothes and other belongings, for example – that added “another layer of stress” for their families.

A pair of missing socks might seem minute to some, he said, but getting campers the gear they need for the session can be “a financial strain and a logistical challenge.” In this case, too, he said social workers were able to help a family with lost items replace them.

Camp officials, likewise, had to regroup after the cancellation. After the closure, Child and Family Services received donors’ permission to redirect their previous gifts to offset the costs of addressing the bedbug outbreak, Strange said.

The organization had initially set aside $275,000 for this year’s camp sessions, and all of that except a small portion of the camp’s food budget came from charitable donations, she said.

Other fundraising efforts are also in the works, Strange said, but she did not have additional details at this point. She said the organization would welcome donations from others who would like to help the camp rebuild.

“We don’t let something like this keep us down. It might seem like a drastic measure, but it’s because we believe it’s the most careful measure and safest and long-term,” Strange said. “We really believe we’re going to come back stronger next year.”

(Casey McDermott can be reached at 369-3306 or cmcdermott@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @caseymcdermott.)

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