CULVER CITY, Calif. — Woody the wood turtle is a former pet that someone could not care for anymore. He now lives at the STAR Eco Station, a wildlife rescue in Culver City that hosts a kids camp every summer through STAR Education. Katiana Bozzi, who is the outreach director, co-founded the animal rescue with her family in 1997.
"Eco Station is the exact same camp that we’ve been running for 20 years, just completely different," Bozzi said.
It's a difference campers and their parents will notice immediately, starting with a touchless drop off, where temperatures are taken and the staff asks parents some brief questions regarding COVID-19. Everyone must wear a mask and follow distancing rules of being at least six feet apart.
"We randomly will scream out “wingspan” and the kids spread out their arms. They get to pick a bird that they are for the day, so they remember to keep that physical distance because it is difficult," Bozzi said.
Instead of exploring multiple rooms of animals each day, the kids will rotate to different rooms with their pod. Pods consist of no more than 10 children with three adults supervising. Each child has their own cubicle for different activities.
"It feels awesome," said Bella Maduff, 6, describing her return to camp, despite the changes. "I’m sad. Now we can’t hug each other."
Bella's mom Wendy Maduff said her daughter was excited to return to camp and she was happy because she had to work.
"We told her two weeks in advance and we had the countdown and she was so excited," Maduff said.
Maduff said being stuck at home had taken a toll on her daughter’s well-being.
"When I started to see the social changes in my daughter, she would no longer FaceTime her friends, she didn’t want to do anything," she said. "I needed her to get out and see other kids, but at a safe distance."
And as parent with a background in microbiology, she did her research — even talking with Katya Bozzi, the STAR's executive director.
"I was mostly concerned about the airflow and the ventilation in the building and outside, so I called Katya, and we spoke about it, and she actually installed extra fans and HEPA filters," Maduff said. "I know I am that crazy parent, so I accept that, but again it’s for the protection of my child."
The Eco Station is one of just two STAR sites for in-person camps this summer. The other location in Palms is brand new this year and housed in a former UCLA graduate art studio.
"An introduction right now in the summer is a really good way to get them ready for the school year," Katya Bozzi said. "Wearing a mask does not take away who you are and how much fun you can be and how much fun you can have."
Maduff said the risk is "worth it for us" as Bella can "get the social interaction that she needs desperately."