Planning Ahead for an Affordable Summer

moneySummer camps are a staple of American society. For many families, sending kids to a summer camp, either day or overnight, is a luxury at first glance.

However, with a little extra planning, that crucial summer experience can be within reach. A variety of resources are at the disposal of parents to ensure that their child has an incredible summer experience.

Where to start looking?

The first place to begin looking for financial aid is at the very summer camp where you wish to send your child. More often than not, scholarships are provided through the camps themselves.

“We are fortunate to live in a community that has resources both for scholarship and incentive grants. We always suggest reaching out directly to the camp. Things like that are often off of people’s radars,” explained Janna Zuckerman, senior planning associate and program manager with the Center for Jewish Camping. “Local camps give out thousands of dollars in scholarships a year. Often families are uncertain and will hesitate or won’t even ask, thinking it is out of reach.”

Additionally, financial aid is frequently offered through local institutions, which will often set aside funds for a specific cause with which they associate. For example, religious entities such as churches or synagogues may offer need-based scholarships to camps that they sponsor. Some have discretionary budgets that can go towards sending kids to a camp that identifies with its religion.

A school counselor is also a great resource to help parents find more information about specific camps. Working one-on-one with a counselor who is familiar with your child is a good way to find a camp that accommodates all of your child’s needs.

Regardless of where you decide to seek out financial assistance, time is important. Most camps have limited funding as far as scholarships — the earlier you begin to look and apply, the more likely that you will qualify for help.

Need-based vs. flat rate

Financial aid can come in two forms. Most commonly, camps provide financial aid based on need. The application process for need-based scholarships involves submitting information such as tax and income records.

Summer camp programs offered through the local YMCA are a prime example. Lana Smith, director of the Y in downtown Baltimore, explained, “Our guidelines for parents help us find out who is really in need. Once we weigh information about income and circumstances, we can evaluate how much they can receive.”

Recipients of scholarships from the Y can benefit from anywhere between 10 and 90 percent of the total cost of the camp. In addition to traditional camp programs, the Y offers specialty summer programming such as science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) educational programs and teen adventure camps. And, the camp works with a third-party pay group called the Child Care Subsidy program through the Department of Social Services to provide further financial aid.

Financial aid can also come at a flat rate, depending on factors such as how long the child will attend a camp. PJ Goes to Camp is an example of a local initiative that offers such scholarships.

“One of the biggest issues facing camping today is affordability,” said Mark Gold, director of PJ Goes to Camp, a funder of the Federation for Jewish Camping’s One Happy Camper program.

The One Happy Camper program is a collaboration between PJ Goes to Camp and 43 other funders nationally. Typically, groups each cover their own region, but PJ Goes to Camp is a unique entity in that it includes gaps not covered by other regions.

Unlike other organizations that might offer need-based scholarships, PJ Goes to Camp has a simple, straightforward system which awards flat rates to all applicants. Gold explained, “A grant requires a minimum stay at camp for 12 days. For camp sessions between 12 and 18 days, we provide $700. For campers attending for 19 days or longer, we provide $1000.”

“[Affordability] impacts camps as much as it impacts parents,” explained Gold. “In our experience, first-time campers are the ones who look to us for grants. Second- or third- year campers though, if they have had an incredible camping experience, a parent might really want to send them back for another amazing summer at the same camp. A lot of camps have separate scholarship funds. Our program is designed as an incentive to get first-time campers who will continue to go back.”

With such a large reach, the program receives a lot of inquiries from individuals who might not be aware that they are eligible for a grant in a different region. In addition to providing financial aid in its own territory, PJ Goes to Camp helps to point such individuals toward a different, more suitable source of aid from within the larger organization.

Stephen Goldstein, senior vice president of Scheinker Investment Partners, reminds parents of yet another route for getting kids to summer camp, which may take more time and planning, but can be effective nonetheless. According to Stephen Goldstein, senior vice president of Scheinker Investment Partners, “Other nonprofit organizations and community institutions are a good place for aid, but the best way to send a kid to camp is to save. Once the child is born, you should be putting away money in a savings account.”

About Daniel Nozick

Elizabeth Heubeck, a native of Baltimore, is a former editor of Baltimore's Child and the mother of two teenagers. Currently, she spends much of her spare time wishing she was a gourmet cook (or at least a solid short-order cook), hoping the piles of laundry would disappear and, in the warmer months, battling weeds in her flower beds.

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