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Camperships: Making Camp Accessible to More Kids

Last week’s blog featured numerous camps throughout the state that offer free sessions to economically disadvantaged kids. Youngsters who qualify for free and reduced lunch under federal guidelines – kids often nominated by schools or social service agencies – may have the opportunity to attend a week or 10 days of Maine camp tuition-free. But what about families which don’t fall in that category, for whom the cost of many traditional summer camps is out of reach? That’s where “camperships” come in, financial assistance that can make a camp experience possible. Here is a sampling of what some camps offer.

At Maine Audubon, in Falmouth, an endowment funds camperships for Summer Camp at Gilsland Farm, says Group Assistant Beth Pauls. The day camp, which focuses on environmental education and serves youngsters in grades K-5, offers “play-based nature study and education,” says Pauls. By offering scholarships, Maine Audubon reaches kids “who would never have a chance” to spend a week or two in Maine’s outdoor beauty, she says.

“It’s all about being out in nature and studying Maine wildlife and habitat. There are so many kids out there who really love nature,” Pauls says. Families seeking financial assistance for the camp must fill out an application and pay a $50 processing fee. The endowment covers the balance of camp tuition.

“I can’t recall turning anyone down,” she says.

Camp Ketcha, in Scarborough, is another day camp that offers camperships. Camp Director Thomas Anderson says the camp has budgeted approximately $10,000 in scholarship funds for the 2017 camp season.

“Last year we met everyone’s needs,” he says. “We didn’t have to turn anyone away.”

Camp Ketcha conducts year-round fundraising to make the assistance possible. As a result, Anderson says, “we see [campers] come in and be a kid and not have to worry about stuff outside camp.”

“It’s nice to have the opportunity to let kids get outside and play and grow together,” he says.

The camp, whose mission Anderson says is to “provide kids of all ages with deep connections to the land, a vibrant community, and the confidence to create their sense of place in the world,” serves youngsters ages three to 14, and also has counselor-in-training and leadership-in-training programs.

Overnight camps in Maine also seek to make camp accessible to youngsters. At Bryant Pond 4-H Camp in Bryant Pond, Director Ron Fournier says between 65 and 70 percent of campers receive some sort of scholarship help. Private donors as well as rod and gun clubs and other civic organizations enable kids to attend the camp, Fournier says.

“Each scholarship comes with its various goals,” he says. “They give kids a chance that probably wouldn’t be available.”

And the opportunity can be “life-changing,” Fournier says.

Other campership opportunities come from the YMCA Camp of Maine. Camp Director Jeff Gleason says the camp seeks to reach kids “regardless of their ability to pay.”

“We are supported by alumni and the community and other stakeholders. We see camp as an opportunity for everybody.” In addition to assisting families with financial need, the camp also offers scholarships to families of active military personnel, Gleason says.

Gleason says the camp – which is coed and serves about 200 kids aged eight to 15 each session – works with social service agencies, schools, and individual families in reaching campers. The camp seeks to develop youngsters’ leadership and self-confidence, as well as create lifelong friendships, Gleason says. “To be able to offer that is pretty heart-warming.”

Other traditional Maine camps also extend assistance, though to a lesser degree. At Winona Camps for Boys in Bridgton, Director Spencer Ordway says the camp works with groups in Portland and Lewiston’s refugee community, and will also host some campers from a charter school in Bridgeport, CT. In addition, the camp works with the Steve Glidden Foundation, established by the family of a former Winona camper killed in a bus accident while on a Newton, MA school trip in Canada in 2001.

“A lot of campership funds come through and from the foundation,” Ordway says.

And in Sebago, Camp O-AT-KA offers a number of camperships each summer to Maine boys who have previously attended the camp’s Dennen Week program, a tuition-free week of camp held each August.

Maine camps of all types offer kids a chance to spend some of their summer vacation playing outdoors, appreciating nature, and making lasting friendships. They foster leadership abilities, independence, and self-reliance. Campers develop new skills on the field, in the art studio, and in Maine’s woods and water. And thanks to many camps throughout the state kids from all backgrounds get to join in the fun.