So many members of the Clarke community have been making an incredible impact during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are eager to share some of their stories and celebrate their indispensable work, both inside and outside the home.
Danny with his family. From left, daughter Alysia, wife Debbie, daughter Alexa, Danny and son Max, Clarke alumnus.
Danny Collins, Clarke Alumnus Parent
Teacher; Co-Owner/Director of a Summer Day Camp
When high school sports marketing and management teacher Danny Collins’s school closed in mid-March of 2020, he didn’t realize how long it would last. “As we were removed from the building and went virtual, at first I didn’t pay much attention,” says the parent of three teens, Alysia, Alexa and Max, a Clarke Philadelphia alumnus. “Then it became obvious that this was going to be long-term.”
He realized he also had to start adjusting plans for the summer camp he runs, Flourtown Day Camp and Swim Club, right away. “In late March, we began to consider: Would it be feasible?” Danny recalls. “Would it be allowed, with regulations? Could we pull it off? We began an extensive major planning process, well beyond what we do in a normal year.”
Not knowing if they’d be allowed to open, they took the risk of beginning camp preparations. “We moved forward, spending the money to prep our facilities, make repairs, invest in all the pool preparations,” Danny says. “It was a roll of the dice.” So when Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced that camps could in fact open, with restrictions and guidelines, “we were ahead of the game. We were ecstatic!” Danny remembers.
Then families started backing out. “We lost around 100 families, canceling their registrations,” he says. But because so many camps in the area were not opening, they discovered a new customer base. “We became one of the few choices available in the area and ended up registering 100 new families. About one-third of our audience turned over—it was crazy.”
Applying guidance from the state, the CDC and the American Camp Association, Danny and his 90-member staff prepared assiduously for opening day. “It was constant work from 6:00 am to 10:00 pm,” he says. “I can’t say enough about the people who work there. And it was one of the most tiring things I’ve ever done!”
At the end of the summer, Danny was proud to share that with over 300 campers, they’ve remained healthy and received outstanding testimonials from families. “As we started going into this, with virtual learning and so many changes for children in general, we wanted to provide some sort of normalcy. With our planning, our prep and our incredible staff, we were able to make that work.”
In addition to safely operating a successful day camp during a pandemic, Danny and his wife Debbie keep busy with teenagers, Alexa, Alysia and Clarke alum Max. “It has been a blessing to have Clarke in the area for Max,” Danny says. “The seeds that they planted allowed Max to be where he is now, to have the confidence to be able to speak in front of a group of people—that certainly comes from the wonderful people at Clarke. So we’ll always be in contact with Clarke—we come back for alumni nights, we held a fundraiser at the swim club to raise money for Clarke. We want to continue to support Clarke in the way that Clarke supported us.”
Max, now a senior in high school, shares this drive to give back. In the spring of 2020, Max contacted Judy Sexton, director of Clarke Philadelphia, to let her know he wanted to do service work for the school. Judy invited him to be the commencement speaker at Clarke’s virtual preschool graduation.
In Max’s speech, he spoke directly to the students, saying, “You will have unique skills to help you persevere [with] your own future goals, create long lasting friendships and excel through your years of school that are to come. You will be brave souls, knowing that your hearing loss will not cause you to lose sight of your dreams or make a difference in the amazing person that you are going to grow up to be… remember, the sky’s the limit for you.”
Danny echoes this confidence in children’s perseverance as he looks ahead to post-pandemic life, saying, “Kids are the most resilient of all of us, and they can rebound very well. You see how kids interact and play at camp, and you can see that everything is going to be okay.”