As COVID-19 forces camp closure, DC’s Hope House seeks new ways to help

COVID-19 has trampled a path around the globe, leaving many victims in its wake, and throwing a wrench into daily life — including forcing us to retool how people interact and what activities are deemed safe.

As a result, an organization in D.C. that works to keep kids connected with their fathers who are in prison is revamping its summertime programs due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“One of the programs we do is a summer camp behind bars, where we take children into the prison to spend five days with their dads,” said Carol Fennelly, the executive director of Hope House DC. During their weeklong summer camps, children spend five hours each day with their dads creating art, playing games and bonding in person.

But this summer?

“We had to cancel [the camps] — all of them,” Fennelly told WTOP.

Because prisons have been closed to visitors, Hope House has also canceled their reading program, in which Hope House staff members record dads in prison reading books as a way to create bedtime-story experiences for children.

Hope House DC’s College Challenge program, which helps students navigate the college application process, was also affected.

“We had to end College Challenge early. Normally, we go right up until June. We have a going-away party for our kids who are going off to college. We couldn’t do that this year. Right when we would have been meeting was right at the peak of the social distancing stuff, and we didn’t want to bring the kids over here and risk getting anybody sick,” Fennelly said.

But they’re working on something for the children who would’ve spent time with their dads at the summer art camps.

“We’ve got a really exciting project — that we’re not ready to announce yet — but we will shortly,” Fennelly said.

They’ve also broadened the Boost Baskets initiative, which provides food for families, from eight households to about 30. Each family gets about three weeks’ worth of food, along with a slow cooker and recipes for meals to make with each food basket.

It’s not clear what their summer art camps will look like once there’s more control over COVID-19. Fennelly said it’s hard to plan in this new environment made unpredictable by the virus.

“Everything is so up in the air. That’s the problem. It’s really hard to make plans, because you don’t know what’s coming down the road.”

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