Camps Respond To Tighter Times

by Stanley Thomas

From offering expanded discounts to tightening their own belts, Delaware Valley summer camps are responding to tight times.

“We are limiting tuition increases for some programs, and in some cases, we have actually reduced the cost of some of our camps,” says Charles Kaesshaefer, director of Penn Charter Summer Camps in Philadelphia. “We have also increased the number of discounts we offer, including an early payment discount, family discount (for two or more campers) and a full-session discount.”

At Tall Pines Camp in Williamstown, NJ, “We have closely examined our entire budget and have realized cost savings in areas that would not negatively affect our campers, says owner/director Andrew Yankowitz.

For example, Tall Pines has cut its postage costs in half by e-mailing most materials to families. “Most of our families love the convenience and it is environmentally friendly,” says Yankowitz. “Any cost savings we realize will be used to pay for capital improvements which we may not have been able to do, given the state of the economy.”

Camp officials advise parents to ask ahead about discounts, options and safeguards. Here are ways some camps say you can save.

Discounts for early registration, siblings, first-time campers or attending for an entire session or extra weeks. In addition, “if you have older children, sometimes camps will allow your child to be a CIT (counselor in training) in exchange for a reduced camp fee or sometimes even for free,” advises Laura Kelly, owner of the Handwork Studio in Narberth, PA, who says her camp will not increase rates this year. ESF Summer Camps, located in Chester Springs, Chestnut Hill, Haverford and Newtown Square, PA, offers referral, sibling and multi-week discounts.

Fewer days of camp or partial camp days. For example, parents can “consider sending your child to a specialty camp for two or three weeks and using a lower-cost option such as your local parks and recreation camp program for the remainder of summer needs,” suggests Vance Fox, director of Mad Science Specialty Camps, located throughout the region.

Many camps offer a variety of time commitments, ranging from a week to the entire summer. Some offer half-day options. The Handwork Studio this year will offer shorter, reduced-price mini-camps. Camp Montessori in Wilmington, DE offers a 3-day-per-week option.

Extended payment plans. “We work with parents if they need an individualized payment plan,” says Cass Winner, director of Camp Montessori.

“Please call your camp director early to find out what the camp can do to extend payments,” advises Yankowitz. “Don’t wait until the 11th hour to set up a payment plan.”

“We are committed to working out individual payment plans for each family, really allowing them to feel comfortable and not overwhelming them with the cost of camp,” says Baily Kahan, assistant director of Camp Gan Israel in Cherry Hill, NJ.

Camperships and other forms of assistance. Camp Gan Israel, some YMCA camps and many others offer scholarships or subsidies to qualifying families. As with payment plant, camp officials say apply early for assistance. Low- and moderate-income families also could qualify for state or municipal child care assistance that can be applied to summer camp. To learn more, contact Child Care Aware, 800-424-2246, www.childcareaware.org

Take advantage of tax benefits. Camp serves as day care for many two-income families, and can qualify for tax credits of up to 35 percent under the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit (IRS Publication 503). Dependent Care Flexible Spending Accounts can be used for kids younger than age 13 in day camps.

Protect yourself. “Check the refund policy of your camp so if your circumstances change for the worse, you know up until what point you can get a refund,” advises Kelly.

The bottom line, say officials, is that camp should remain a priority. “Kids hold it together all year long,” says Pat Sacchetti, coordinator of Haddonfield Friends Summer Camp in Haddonfield, NJ. “They need some down time and time to enjoy ‘summer fun time the way it used to be.’”

“Camp provides a summer magic that no other activity can replace,” says Kaesshaefer.

Stanley Thomas is a local freelance writer.