I wish summer camp were free.

I would like every child to attend one of the many excellent summer camps around the world for two weeks each summer, but the fees can be a barrier for families.  I live and work in eastern Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia in the old mountains above the City of Reading.  In preparing this post, I decided to look into the fees at camps within a couple of hours of my location.  In an hour of research, I located 27 YMCA camps in New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

The prices range from $250 per week of resident camp to $800 per week.  These camps offered 1 Week, 2 Week, 4 Week, and 8 Week sessions.  They offered programs ranging from arts to archery and trips to target sports.  They are situated in State Parks, on thousands of acres in upstate New York, on the Chesapeake Bay, just off the Appalachian Trail, and right next to suburban neighborhoods.  It is dizzying – and these are just YMCA camps.

In simply looking at the fees, any reasonably intelligent person would ask, “why the disparity?”

Here’s the skinny:  It’s not about staff.  We all pay about the same rates for our American and international staff.  We pay the same food companies the same prices on food.  As YMCAs, our facilities have been built by capital donations – so, generally, we carry very little debt.  Largely, it comes down to operational costs.  I will try and explain this without getting technical.  If you are looking at a 2 camps – one that is $250 per week and one that is $750 per week – there are a few differences you may not notice at first glance.  Both camps have archery.  Both camps boast a climbing tower.  So here’s the difference:

  1. Your cheaper program carries fewer year-round staff.  The more expensive program is putting money into year-round staff because they believe it is important for program planning and quality, staff recruitment and training, and camper contact and recruitment.
  2. The more expensive program will have more facilities and program that must be maintained year-round.  I worked at a camp that cost $250 a week and it only had 22 buildings and a climbing tower to maintain.  I worked at a camp that cost $400 per week and it had 46 buildings to maintain, a climbing tower, a ropes course, and horses to feed year-round.  I currently work with Camp Conrad Weiser which costs $685 per week.  Conrad Weiser maintains 96 buildings, a climbing tower, a ropes course, a pool, horses, and much more.  The cost of camp goes up with the cost of maintaining the facility.
  3. Market.  The $250 camp is recruiting local campers – possibly from rural or suburban regions where the average household income for residents is modest at best.  The $750 camp draws from urban areas with significantly higher average household incomes.

My adviceVisit the camps you are researching.  There will be noticeable differences between the $250 and $750 programs – if you visit and poke around a bit.  Both programs should have quality staffs (although one camp may simply have more people on its team).  Both programs should offer safe and engaging programs (although the more expensive camp may have more).  Both programs should put your child’s needs first.

If you decide on a more expensive camp, one that may normally be out of your price range, call the camp and ask about variable pricing options.  Ask about scholarships.  Ask about payment plans.  Ask about tier pricing.  Particularly if it is a YMCA camp, the staff will be motivated to help.

I would like every child to have the opportunity to attend a good, quality summer camp for two weeks each summer – and that is why I work for a YMCA camp as opposed to a “for profit” camping enterprise.  Working at the South Mountain YMCA (www.smymca.org) allows me to guarantee that every child can attend my camps, regardless of a family’s ability to pay.  If you are interested in camps providing scholarships, income-based price structures, or other variable pricing options, look no further than your local YMCA camp (http://www.ymca.net/find_ymca_camps/).

We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

Be sure to visit Nathan’s camp, The South Mountain YMCA Camps, at www.smymca.org.

Nathan

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