Labor shortages force summer camps to cut – or cancel – all programs

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The start of summer vacation has arrived, but instead of preparing to welcome campers, many camps have had to disappoint families by reducing the variety of programs they can offer this year. Some are canceling overnight programs, or worse, camping out completely for the 2022 season.

It’s a nightmare situation for families who now have to scramble for a plan B. Camp operators say a severe labor shortage has forced them to take such drastic measures.

One such camp is Camp Fire Camp Toccoa, located on 176 acres in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in northeast Georgia. The camp is run by a national non-profit youth development organization.

In early May, it informed families that it would not be able to operate its overnight camp program this summer due to “difficulty finding the necessary staff to provide a summer residence camp experience that meets the standards and expectations of staff and the board,” according to a message on his site.

In a more detailed entry posted on his Facebook page at the same time, camp operators wrote that they had spent hours preparing for his overnight camp to open this summer.

“Ultimately, however, we were unable to hire enough counselors to run the programs and to provide the care and attention our campers need and deserve.”

“No amount of blowing sheets, painting and repairing will put a counselor in every cubicle. No amount of advertising, networking and direct contact with people looking for summer staff has produced a large enough staff to run our magical overnight programs,” the post said, adding that Camp Toccoa hopes to have enough staff to offer overnight camps for the 2023 season.

Camp Fire Camp Toccoa officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Staffing shortages have also forced some city-run summer camps to cancel their entire season this year.

In Michigan, Traverse City canceled its 2022 summer day camp program because it couldn’t hire enough workers to meet state regulations that require a 10:1 student-to-counsellor ratio.

Traverse City officials said in an April press release that candidates for camp coordinators were offered 50% more hourly pay this year than in 2021 and camp counselors a 20% pay raise. compared to a year ago, but “have still only received two candidates to date”. The city needed a staff of 10-12 to effectively run the camp.

“The decision to cancel the summer day camp program has been extremely difficult, especially in light of the child care challenges faced by members of our community,” the Traverse City manager said. Marty Colburn, in a statement. “Unfortunately, the staffing shortage is not unique to the city or region, but is widespread across the state and nation.”

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Tim Younker, director of the St. Ann, Missouri, department of parks and recreation, said his town also failed to attract the staff needed to run its six-week summer camp this year.

“We advertised camp director and counselor jobs at local high schools and colleges, on Facebook and on our website, but received no response,” he said. The day camp (which costs $250 for residents and $350 for non-residents), runs from late June to late July and typically employs a seasonal staff of 18.

“At the end of April, we let families know that we would not be offering camp this year,” Younker said. It’s a blow to many parents who depend on it for their summer childcare needs, he said.

“Those were desirable summer jobs for the older kids. I don’t really know why they aren’t interested,” Younker said. “It’s the same situation with swimming pools. There aren’t enough lifeguards and I’ve heard of swimming pools around us that have had to cut their hours.”

He added that city administrators are looking to offer a higher salary next year to attract the staff they need.

Expect to pay more

A labor shortage couldn’t come at a worse time for the camp industry, which is still reeling from the disruption caused by the pandemic over the past two years.

In 2020, 82% of night camps and 60% of day camps did not work at all. The loss of activity has forced some camps to close completely.

Demand has returned strongly this year with some 26 million children nationwide expected to be enrolled in one of more than 15,000 summer camps nationwide.

“Parents desperately want their children to be in nature with their peers and away from technological devices after two years of social distancing,” said Tom Rosenberg, president and CEO of the American Camp Association, a nonprofit organization. nonprofit that represents the summer camp. industry.

As demand and inflation force camp operators to incur more costs by having to pay more for food, busing staff and insurance as well as other supplies, Rosenberg said camp fees are also expected to increase by 10% to 15% this summer compared to 2021.

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