Ways To Reduce
The Costs of Summer Camp

by Ellen Warren

More than 11 million children will enjoy some kind of camp experience this summer. At diverse day and overnight camps,

tuition can range from under $75 to more than $650 per week.

Some families don’t look into summer camp, regarding it as financially out of reach. Yet according to Peg L. Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association (ACA), there is a camp for just about every budget, and assistance options to make camp affordable for every child.

Smith says that when parents are choosing a camp, they need to ask the right questions. Does the camp offer partial or total “camperships,” similar to a scholarship? What is included in the tuition? What is the refund policy? Are there discounts for early registration, full-season enrollment, or multiple family members?

For More Info

American Camp Association, www.acacamps.org

Child and Dependent Care Expenses, IRS Publication 503, www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p503.pdf

Dependent Care Flexible Spending Accounts, www.fsafeds.com

Philadelphia Safe and Sound Summer Camp Program Finder, www.philasafesound.org/pfc/locateprogram.php;
the PSS Program Finder is also available through the PSS Parent Assistance Line, 215-568-0737 (Mon.-Fri, 9am to 5pm).

Tuition Reductions and Help
ESF Summer Camps, which operates a variety of area camps, and Phillies Baseball Academy camps in several Delaware Valley locations, offer a variety of discounts and flexible payment plans to help families control the cost of camp.

“Camp tuition can be a challenge for families, especially those that need camp for the full summer and need extended day hours,” says Greg Ackerman, ESF’s director of admissions. “Because we offer such varied programs in activities and sports, put together by a year-round staff, our price range is not the lowest.”

To help parents handle the cost, “our weekly tuition fee gradually reduces with attendance of six weeks or more,” says Ackerman. “We offer an early enrollment incentive for our alumni families. Parents can arrange payment plans with ESF, and we offer flexibility with our payment due dates. We also offer need-based financial aid that families can apply for in January and February.”

Need-based assistance takes many forms, and generally requires a family to apply for aid in addition to completing the camp’s basic registration form. Some camps, such as Mountain Meadow, a two-week overnight camp in southern New Jersey for children of gay and other non-traditional families in and around Philadelphia, offer a sliding scale tuition policy to make camp affordable.

Randi Sherman, Mountain Meadow’s program director, says, “A sliding fee scale is a great way to ensure that camp is accessible to all youth regardless of their family’s economic background. Mountain Meadow’s commitment to a sliding fee scale is a key component in fulfilling our mission to serve a diverse community.”

Factors such as income, expenses, and temporary circumstances may be considered when a family applies for a financial assistance program like the one offered by the Central Bucks Family YMCA. According to Keith J. Jensen, sports and physical education camp director, the Central Bucks Y never turns anybody away due to an inability to pay. “In 2007 we assisted over 160 kids with financial aid for our camp,” he says. “We hope that this number continues to grow in 2008. Our camp provides a quality environment at an affordable price.” 

Child Care Subsidies
Since camp programs — particularly day camps — are a type of childcare, many camps offer aid in the form of income subsidies from federal, state, or municipal administrative agencies. Income subsidies are paid directly to the approved camp program to cover part or all of a family’s tuition, after the family has met eligibility requirements through a Child Care Information Service (CCIS) agency.

Eligibility for income subsidies may vary by program, and all camps welcome inquiries from parents who think that they may qualify.

Philadelphia Safe and Sound (PSS) manages a network of summer camp programs that are either tuition-free or have a sliding scale tuition policy. PSS can also help parents locate summer camps with a user-friendly online search engine. PSS enables parents to search for a wide range of preferences, including income subsidies and scholarships.

Families may also find camp more affordable by taking advantage of federal income tax benefits such as the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (IRS Publication 503) or Dependent Care Flexible Spending Accounts, available for children younger than age 13 in day camp programs.

Parents may receive tax credits for up to 35 percent of their child care expenses if they work or are looking for work while their child is in day camp. Flexible Spending Accounts can, in effect, exclude the income used to pay for camp from being taxed. Check with your tax advisor or employer, and be sure you understand how to use these benefits correctly.

Introductory Discount
All kinds of camps are sensitive to the impact of a weakening economy and seek creative ways to help parents give their children the gift of camp. The Jewish Community Center Association has operated Pinemere Camp, an overnight camp for boys and girls in Stroudsburg, PA, for 65 summers. In 2008, Pinemere is launching a New Camper Initiative Program in which children ages 6, 7, 8, and 9 attending Pinemere for the first time can receive a “gift” of $500 toward tuition for the full or partial season.

Pam Levi, Pinemere’s Assistant Director, says the Program is donor-funded, and significantly lowers Pinemere’s already affordable intro- -ductory rates. “Starting overnight camp is a big step. We want to make sure that all kids have the opportunity to receive a quality camping experience,” says Levi. 

Whether you choose a day or overnight camp, a traditional or specialty camp, the camp experience is beneficial. Ask the right questions and your child can join the millions who will share in the experience this summer.

Ellen Warren writes for the American Camp Association Keystone Section, which serves camps and camp families in Pennsylvania and Delaware.