Illustration by Tim Cook
Bob Pryor, director of Camp Hanover, a Christian residential camp in Mechanicsville, believes that every child who wants to attend summer camp should have that opportunity. Often, he sees families who want to send their child to camp but are deterred by the cost, which can range from $250 to $1,000 a week. "Don't let the dollar signs scare you away," he says. "Call the camp to see what they can do."
To be sure, there are ways to lessen the financial burden. The American Camp Association, a group representing camp professionals, gives $39 million annually for camp scholarships across the United States, available through each individual camp. Many camps such as Camp Hanover (where a one-week camp session runs from $425 to $435) also offer some type of financial assistance. "We encourage people to not let finances stand in the way of a child attending camp," Pryor says, adding that financial assistance at the camp is not a total giveaway. "We want the family to have some kind of investment. We encourage families to pay part of [the tuition]."
His belief that camp is a very important element of the maturing process and a crucial experience for children fuels his search for financial partnerships and donors.
"We work with our churches and our donors to help them understand the value of this [camp] ministry and the importance of it to children and youth who want to attend but because of financial restraints are unable to," he says.
Owned and operated by the Presbyterian Church, Camp Hanover offers financial assistance that equates to roughly one-third of the total cost of the camp. Families are responsible for the balance, if possible. "We encourage them to make the effort to find funds from other supporting agencies," says Pryor, adding that one they've worked with is Homestretch in Northern Virginia, a nonprofit that helps new immigrants and the homeless. But, he adds, "If the family is unable to provide any financial resources, we will make it happen."
Roughly 10 percent to 15 percent of the campers at Camp Hanover are receiving financial assistance. "We are seeing that number increase over the last couple of years," Pryor says. "A lot of times it's people you wouldn't think would need the scholarship. We have seen a different kind of need out there because of the economy or health issues."
Camps such as Lobs & Lessons at Virginia Commonwealth University, which focuses primarily on tennis, try to keep tuition affordable. But even with a low $45-a-week cost, some campers still need some type of assistance. Last year the camp offered partial scholarships through the United States Tennis Association's Mid-Atlantic Section that paid for 50 percent of the camp tuition. Thirteen students took advantage of the scholarships, which are granted based on combined family income.
"Our scholarships target underserved youth," says Tina Carter, director of the Mary and Frances Youth Center at VCU, where she oversees the Lobs & Lessons program. "Each year, we have had some type of funding assistance for students [through the USUTA]. We have received different levels of support that we have been able to offer families."
The camp offers one-week sessions that range from little lobsters in grades one through three to top lobsters in grades six through eight. "Even though the camp's focus is tennis, we also swim, participate in outdoor adventure games and talk about healthy lifestyles, eating healthy and we learn about careers that might be of interest," Carter says.
Camp at the Jamestown 4-H Educational Center wouldn't have been an option for 8 percent of its campers from Henrico if they had not received some type of financial assistance. Scholarships to 4-H camps are need-based. "We try to give everybody some financial assistance that requests it, especially families with multiple children," says Kendra Young, the 4-H youth development extension agent for Henrico County. "We will also work with payment plans."
Children attending camp at Jamestown 4-H Center can apply for scholarships through their county 4-H office. Some are also available directly through the Jamestown 4-H Center. "When you add the two up, it can be up to one-half the price of the camp," says Young. "We don't provide full scholarships."
The weeklong residential camps feature a variety of activities that include marine science, archery, outdoor-living skills and sports. Campers don't have to be previously involved in 4-H to receive financial aid, but 4-H members do have an opportunity for additional scholarships available through the 4-H Leaders Association.
The Weinstein JCC offers scholarships for all of its programs, including Camp Ganim for children ages 2 through 5, and Camp Hilbert for older children. The center's specialty or week-themed camps are not included in the scholarship program. "When you apply for camp, there is a section of the form that asks if you are interested in scholarships," says Melissa Bunce, the center's special-needs director. "Information is also on the website [weinsteinjcc.org]."
In order to qualify, parents must make less than $70,000 a year. "Part of applying for the scholarship is you have to apply to be a JCC member if you are not a member," Bunce says, adding that the JCC typically does not give 100 percent scholarships.
Applications for scholarships are sent to Jewish Family Services, which will set up interviews with parents to review their applications. Family Services provides the Weinstein JCC with rankings for scholarships. "We look for families that really need the financial aid," Bunce says. "We really make sure that families have extenuating circumstances. Even if the funds allocated [for scholarships] have been used, we will find money to make sure that a child can attend one of our programs."
In the last few years, the need for scholarships has increased. "We have seen more people asking for financial aid," Bunce says. "A lot of families are asking that make over $70,000 but they are trying to sell a house or one parent has lost a job."
The need for assistance is on the rise, Young says. "Folks are struggling. They want to provide an opportunity for their child but may not be able to pay for it."