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Transcript: Kevin Washington on "Face the Nation," May 30, 2021

YMCA chief on CDC guidelines for kids
YMCA chief on CDC guidelines for kids 07:20

The following is a transcript of an interview with YMCA President and CEO Kevin Washington that aired Sunday, May 30, 2021, on "Face the Nation."


JOHN DICKERSON: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. As some parents prepare to send their kids off to camp this summer, the CDC revised its COVID guidelines for children, particularly those who have been vaccinated. One of the largest providers of day and overnight camps and- is the YMCA of the USA. And joining us now from Philadelphia is its president and CEO, Kevin Washington. Good morning, Mr. Washington.

PRESIDENT & CEO OF YMCA KEVIN WASHINGTON: Good morning. Glad to be here this morning.

JOHN DICKERSON: We're glad to have you. So last year, summer camps were significantly curtailed as a result of the pandemic. Now, the CDC has come out with this guidance. What do things look like this year? Is camp back?

WASHINGTON: Well, we know it is, and we're hopeful that it will be an exciting summer for young people. We know that they experienced significant difficulties over the past year. You know, with school being virtual isolation away from their friends, we're happy with the CDC guidelines that they put forth. And we know that the YMCA of the USA and all of our affiliates will operate camp for fun and safety with all of these CDC guidelines in mind. You know, we learned a lot last year when the pandemic was in place. Some of our camps did run. And because of the partnership we had with the CDC and the American Camping Association, we feel very confident about being able to put forth a summer where kids will have fun, enjoy themselves, have some learnings, meet some new friends and be engaged in what I would call a summer of fun for our young folks who really, really need it this summer. It will help their emotional, social and physical activities that they're looking for for this year.

JOHN DICKERSON: As I understand it, there are 10,000 day camps and 230 overnight camps. When the CDC issues this kind of guidelines, how- how easy is it or what's the process for taking that information and- and making sure it's in place and the new guidelines are working for parents who are attending- who have kids attending that many camps?

WASHINGTON: Well, one of the things we make sure that it's important, as you know, that there are local and health guidelines that are available that the YMCA has to work by in each state. You know, we have YMCAs in every state, as you know. And 50 of those states have said, yes, you can open your camp this year, but each of them individually, locally, has restrictions that we have to abide by. So all of our camps are engaged in this work, ensuring that they're providing a safe environment and following local and state health officials, as well as CDC guidelines. And that's the way that we work this process, using all of that information to provide the kind of environment where parents can feel comfortable that their kids have a safe environment to do what we do at camp. The other- one of the other issues that's extremely important is as we have the vaccine, the vaccine- vaccine has rolled out, as you know, that the emphasis was on teachers, childcare workers and camp counselors. So a lot of our camp counselors had the opportunity to get a prioritization, to get vaccination as part of this process as well, ensuring another level of safety for our kids as they attend camp this summer.

JOHN DICKERSON: And they had access to the- to the vaccine, those who work in the camps. But will it be mandatory if somebody is- is  teaching in the camps over the summer that they be vaccinated?

WASHINGTON: It has not been mandated, but we know that so many of our camp counselors have taken advantage of the opportunity but it has not been mandated as of yet.

JOHN DICKEROSN: And- and why did you decide not to mandate it? Tell me about that process as you thought through it.

WASHINGTON: Well, as a national resource organization, we cannot mandate and as you know, there's been quite a few issues around that particular area, so we cannot mandate as a national resource. We have to make sure that YMCA follows state and local guidelines and many Ys are following what school districts are doing in their communities as well as a guide in this process. So we cannot mandate because each YMCA is an independent organization, 501(c)(3) and have to follow local and state health guidelines. And so they are different in every state that- in the country. So we cannot mandate that.

JOHN DICKERSON: Thirty percent of the campers attend with some kind of financial aid. How has the pandemic changed that picture in terms of those who need financial aid to enjoy these camps?

WASHINGTON: Great question. For us, access and equity is a key component of who we are. We want to ensure that all kids have the opportunity to attend our camp. So during the pandemic and beyond that, because we know that kids of color and kids in marginalized communities have been affected disproportionately by COVID-19. We're making extremely strong efforts to ensure that we have the resources available to support them as they come to camp. We ask all families if they're interested in going to camp, contact your local YMCA camp because we do have funds available at the local level to ensure that we're providing access to those young kids. You know, I know, and many of our kids know and parents know how transformational summer camp experience can be. And we want all kids to benefit from that, to provide that kind of opportunity where they can meet new friends, develop new skill sets and become engaged in lifelong relationships with others. So we want to make that available. Access and equity is a key component of who we are as an organization, and we do all that we can to raise funds to support those families who may not have the ability to afford camp.

JOHN DICKERSON: You talked about the disparities that have been laid bare as a result or highlighted by COVID-19. I was struck by how much the Y has adapted over the last year and a half, providing emergency meals, taking care of children and first responders, becoming a homeless shelter. How much did the YMCA of the USA have to change and pivot as a result of the pandemic?

WASHINGTON: Great question. You highlighted some of the things that we do, but, you know, as an organization, we've been around for 170 years, so we've been always able to respond to the needs of our communities. The pandemic was another example of how we were able to pivot and I say become what I would call a vital community asset in the communities that we served, 1,400 child care sites that we put up to ensure that first responders, police officers and others who were on the front line could have a place for the kids to go and be safely engaged in that as they did their jobs. Thirteen hundred food feeding sites because we knew we feed kids during the course of the year, but recognize that that need grew bigger with families and other communities. So YMCA stepped up to provide that. All of those things were important and demonstrated that we can be a vital community asset. And as you know, we lost substantial revenue through this process but was able to pivot and provide our communities with what they needed from us. And we continue to do that on a daily basis.

JOHN DICKERON: And you'll continue to do that this summer. Camp is back. Kevin Washington, thank you so much for being with us. And we'll be back in a moment.

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