Financial Aid Requests Increasing at Overnight Camps

Golden Slipper Camp in the Poconos (Photo by Jarrad Saffren)

According to the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s 2023 report on the state of Jewish camping in North America, “families are requesting more financial aid from overnight camps than ever before.”

The foundation discovered that “overnight camps saw about a 30% increase in the amount of financial aid that families requested from their camps.” Nearly a third of overnight camp families “received financial assistance,” according to the report. Average weekly tuition also increased, by 3%.

The Foundation for Jewish Camp collected data from 135 overnight camps to compile its report.

Local overnight camps said that they are dealing with the same issue. As one camp representative put it, “We’re seeing families of all backgrounds requesting more aid. Inflation, mortgage rates — all the factors in our outside economy — are taking a toll.”

“Last year, we saw a nearly 30% rise in requests,” said Laura Frank, the spokesperson for the Union for Reform Judaism, which operates Camp Harlam in the Poconos. “For the last three years, we’ve seen the numbers increase steadily: more applications and applications for higher amounts.”

From 2022 to 2023, Harlam’s requests for financial aid increased by 26%, according to Frank. Harlam also raised its average award by $100.

The requests are coming at a time when synagogues and Jewish federations are decreasing their contributions to camp scholarship funds, according to Frank. Since COVID, they have less extra money to contribute. The URJ is making it work, though.

“We are increasing our fundraising for camp scholarships to ensure every family who wants to join us this summer is able to,” Frank said.

Other local camps are not seeing such big increases in requests. But they are seeing increases.

Camp Saginaw in Chester County is getting “more for this incoming summer than we were for this past summer,” said Jessica Petkov, one of the owners. Around 20 Saginaw campers receive money from the camp’s annual scholarship fund, according to Petkov.

“I would say we maybe have six more families on our list than we did last year,” she said.

Habonim Dror Camp Galil in Ottsville (Photo by Liflander Photography)

Rabbi Zalman Gerber, the director of the Gan Israel Camps of Greater Philadelphia, said, “I definitely see a spike in requests.” But Gan Israel has never turned a camper away due to financial constraints, he added. He thanked “individual sponsors” and the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia for that.

“Thank God, the community has always stepped forward,” Gerber said.

David Weiss, the executive director of Habonim Dror Camp Galil in Ottsville, Bucks County, said his camp normally sees 22-25% of its families request financial aid. In 2023 though, that percentage increased to 28.

The amount of aid is also now 10-15% higher than it was a couple of years ago, according to Weiss. It’s also 25-40% higher than it was in 2019.

Camp tuition has increased as well. Five years ago, a summer at Galil cost $8,000. Now it’s more than $10,000.

Galil has a group of donors who help cover the additional aid, according to Weiss. It also receives a grant annually from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

“I would love to be able to give families more help. But at the same time, we haven’t had a family not ultimately be able to come to camp,” Weiss said. “What I am concerned about is how many families are not even attempting. And that’s what I don’t know.”

The Golden Slipper Camp, based in the Poconos, gives out aid to 70-80% of its campers, according to Executive Director Marti Berk. It’s part of the model. But even Slipper has seen a slight uptick in the amount of aid requested.

“A little bit. But for the most part, this is our model,” Berk said. “We already have an exorbitant amount of money we give out in scholarships.”

Not all overnight camps in the region are dealing with this issue right now.

Brian Krug, the director of Camp Canadensis in the Poconos, said about the 30% increase from the report that, “We haven’t seen anything remotely close to that.”

“If at all,” he added.

Gary Glaser, the director of Camp Nock-A-Mixon in Kintnersville, Bucks County, said, “We work really hard to be under the costs of Canadensis, Saginaw and Pine Forest (Camp).”

“As a result of that, we don’t do any sort of aid package,” he added.

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