Worried About Paying for Summer Camp? Apply for a 'Campership'

Filed under: Work Life


Summer camp doesn't have to be out of reach. Credit: Courtesy American Camp Association

If you've been hit by the recession and think you can't afford to send your kids to summer camp this year, talk to the camp director. You may qualify for a "campership."

There are scholarships for summer camp, but if you think you could qualify, act quickly: Experts warn they're limited and most are offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

About 90 percent of resident camps and 89 percent of day camps offer scholarships, says Ann Sheets, past national president of the American Camp Association.

Eligibility for camp scholarships usually is based on the parents' income, but there are all kinds of camperships out there. For example, pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk awarded grants this year to 15 summer camps that include funds to support scholarships for children with diabetes.


And the number of parents who need help paying the $75 to $650 a week that it generally costs to send a kid to camp is growing as the economy slid in the last two years. Sheets tells ParentDish that, in talking to camps, about half report the number of campers on scholarship is higher than before.

"More people are interested and that's just a function of the economy," says Sean Nienow, a director of the National Camp Association. Some families that were not eligible in past years can meet the income requirements now, and some that were eligible for camperships in past summers but didn't use them are looking at them now, he says.

Meanwhile, the recession has put a damper on charitable giving, including the campership funds.

"Just like any nonprofit, they're feeling some of the pinch and the pressure," Nienow tells ParentDish.

So, the best advice from the experts is to apply early, because the early birds have a better chance of receiving financial aid.

"Many privately-run programs will have scholarship funds," Nienow says. "Almost all the nonprofit programs, like the YMCA, will have some sort of scholarship nut. But it is a fund, and when the funds are depleted, they are depleted."

The best way find out about camperships is to work through the camp your child wants to attend, the experts advise. Each camp handles its own scholarships, often funded by donations from alumni and other donors. Sheets also suggests checking with youth and social organizations such as the Lions Clubs.

Even if you don't think you qualify, it pays to check, Nienow says, especially if your family's finances have taken a hit. If one parent isn't working, or the family business is down this year, that could help meet the eligibility threshold for aid, he explains.

If your kids have gone to the camp before or you have more than one child attending, it can work in your favor, the experts say. Many camps offer incentives for families to send additional children, so the camp may factor that in if your household income puts you on the edge of eligibility for aid, Nienow says.

Some camps also offer discounts for older children in exchange for doing work around the camp, much like a college work-study program, Sheets says.

Even if you don't qualify for a campership, there are other options to ease the financial burden. If you have a Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account to save pre-tax money for child care, you may be able to use it to pay for camp. You also may be able to deduct some camp expenses on your taxes. Sheets recommends talking to your accountant or the Internal Revenue Service for more information.

Ultimately, most camp directors will work with parents to get the kids to to camp, whether it takes aid, payment plans or discounts, Sheets says.

"Every camp director believes in the program," she says. "I've never met a camp director who wouldn't do everything he or she could to make sure a child who wanted to attend could get that experience."

Related: Summer Camp: Are You Afraid to Spend the Money?

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