4 Non-Tuition Ways to Help Families Access Camp

Tuition is just one cost of camp. Here’s how you can help families afford the other costs, too.
min read

Your financial assistance program may help families afford camp tuition, but what about everything beyond that? Barriers like supplies, technology, transportation, and more can still leave some families behind.

Create a Free Supply Closet

Similar to a food pantry, source donations of gear that is commonly needed at your camp. At a classic sleepaway camp, campers might need things like:

  • Sleeping bags
  • Sheets
  • Swimsuits
  • Hiking or horseback riding boots
  • Duffel bags
  • Towels
  • Rain gear
  • Sneakers
  • Sweatshirts

It’s a great idea to wash and use quality unclaimed items last year’s lost and found for this purpose; you can also partner with local organizations such as a charity thrift store or sporting goods store to fill your supply closet.

Once your supply closet is stocked, find ways for campers and their families to shop.

  • If campers live near your camp and it’s easy for them to get there, open the supply closet on certain days and allow families to come before camp and take whatever they need.
  • If campers live in particular locations away from camp, turn your camp bus into a mobile supply closet. Let campers know when the mobile supply closet will be in town, and let them sign up for times to shop (or for the shop to come to them!).
  • If it is difficult to physically connect with campers and their families before camp, have an order form where caregivers can mark items their kids need, as well as sizes and favorite colors/styles. Do your best to fulfill all the requests, and send a picture of the items you gathered back to the caregiver so they know what you have ready for them. Have the items waiting for the camper in a duffel bag when they get to camp.  

Provide Translation and Interpretation

Every email I get from my child’s principal has the message written in Spanish and in English. It is an incredible yet simple service to families in your community who primarily speak Spanish, and it’s something that camps can do, too.

If you notice that there is a contingent of campers whose primary language is one other than English, work to provide resources for them. This could mean translating forms or having a staff member fluent in that language prepare caregivers and kids for camp, as well as communicate during camp as needed.

It has to be scary sending your child off to camp, especially if you have trouble fully understanding all of the important details because of a language barrier. Sharing resources and communicating in multiple languages provides the clarity and understanding that many caregivers need to be confident in sending their kids to camp.

Examine Your Camp’s Hours

Are your service hours aligned with common working hours in your community? For example, a day camp that has a 3 p.m. release time every day and does not offer aftercare is immediately inaccessible to families whose caregivers do not get out of work at that time. An overnight camp that has a Friday afternoon dismissal–but is about three hours from most campers’ hometowns–results in a conflict for many working parents.

Camp provides a lot of wonderful things for kids, but if we’re being completely honest, it’s also essential childcare for parents and guardians. Make sure your camp’s hours are friendly for working caregivers.

If your camp schedule is inflexible, think about ways you can make the burden on caregivers a bit easier. For example, Project Kindred, a non-profit in Milwaukee that offers an overnight camp, has a Friday night dismissal–but they also offer dinner for families at pickup. Sometimes local restaurants even donate the meal!

Provide Transportation

Offer a bus to your camp and select a bus stop that is close to public transit. Often transportation challenges are a final and sometimes even last-minute barrier when many kids are trying to get to camp. And, all sorts of families will be grateful for the transportation option, as it saves time (and, some might say, the bus ride itself is an essential part of the camp experience!).

If you open bus transportation up to families that can afford the full price, as well as families who have a scholarship plan, you can use fees from the first set of families to subsidize the overall price. Just make sure you have plenty of staff on the bus to help connect with kids and make sure everyone is safe and comfortable.  

When a kid wants to go to camp, tuition can certainly be a barrier. But once that camp tuition is paid, the child still has to have all of the gear; they and their caregivers have to understand the details about the camp; and they have to get to and from camp. If these additional essentials are taken care of by supplementary initiatives as described above, your camp will be significantly more accessible. Good luck!

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October 11, 2023
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