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YMCA reimagines camp, catering to families during COVID-19 pandemic

TRINITY, Texas – The coronavirus pandemic put a halt to almost all summer activities, including many camps for children. YMCA’s Camp Cullen, about 90 miles north of Houston in Trinity made the difficult decision to cancel in late May. Hosting hundreds of kids, even with some level of social-distancing, didn’t seem like the right thing to do.

“One of the tenets of our program is responsibility,” said Andrew “Mish” Hood, Camp Cullen’s executive director of 19 years. “When we folded in all of the outside guidance, we weren’t convinced that it truly was the responsible thing to do."

Instead of letting the 530 acres along the shores of Lake Livingston sit dormant this summer, Hood decided to reinvent Camp Cullen. The staff couldn’t bunk 14 children in each cabin, but they can safely host one family per cabin. Seating dozens of campers in the dining hall isn’t doable, but staff can still prepare meals and deliver them to the cabins for those families. What they have reimagined is Family Camp: Escape to the Woods.

Family Camp lets guests feel like they have the sprawling outdoor space to themselves. While the pool is closed, families can order activities, games and sports equipment delivered to their cabin each day. You can check out fishing gear and drop a line in Lake Livingston. You don’t have to be a member of the YMCA to reserve a cabin, but you will get a 25% discount if you are a member.

Many people in Houston grew up attending Camp Cullen each summer. I had never been, and didn’t know what to expect when I booked a weekend with my 3 children. They loved being outside (there is wifi, but you don’t have to tell your kids!) hiking, riding horses and making smores over a campfire. Later this year, families can sign up for theme weeks like “Fall Festival,” “Halloween” and “Winter Wonderland” Family Camp.

The YMCA hopes to keep Family Camp running through the end of 2020 to help make up for the organization’s budget shortfall. Revenue for the YMCA of Greater Houston is down 65% so far this year.

“Getting the word out is the big thing,” said Hood. He knows families are looking for escapes that don’t require them to fly during the pandemic. “But people don’t think to look at the YMCA to find out what kind of programs it is offering.”

If you are interested in booking a stay at Camp Cullen’s Family Camp, click here.

Here’s a description from the YMCA of what Camp Cullen normally offers:

“Camp Cullen offers boys and girls ages 7-17 the experience of a lifetime. Campers take part in a wide range of activities including water sports, horseback riding, a ropes course, nature exploration, drama and so much more. In addition to the many fun activities available, the campers also gather as a cabin group each day where they play, learn and bond together while participating in fun activities like campfires and scavenger hunts.”