Imagine you are a child growing up in a home where money is scarce and a luxury like camp is not affordable. Imagine growing up in a city so polluted with violence and drugs that a walk to the local park is dangerous and therefore forbidden. Imagine going to sleep every night to the sound of gunfire and waking up to an apartment that offers no protection from the heat outside. Imagine this is your summer "vacation."
Imagine what wonders even a couple of weeks at camp would offer this child — chances to play outside, make new friends, and enjoy being a kid. We in the camp industry know that camp gives all kids a world of good, but for a child growing up in the city, camp can offer even more.
What Is S.C.O.P.E.?
S.C.O.P.E. (Summer Camp Opportunities Provide an Edge) is a program of the New York Section of the American Camping Association that makes summer camp available by funding ACA-accredited, nonprofit camps with "camperships" for children in need. S.C.O.P.E. helps fund the tireless efforts of nonprofit camps that serve inner-city children from the New York, New Jersey, and Keystone Sections of ACA. Every $500 raised by S.C.O.P.E. is used to send a child to summer camp for two weeks.
Camp directors in the New York Section who wanted to extend camp opportunities to economically disadvantaged children founded S.C.O.P.E. in 1991. Nonprofit camps that traditionally serve this population were losing funding and being forced to run at less than full capacity and, in some cases, under the threat of shutting down. S.C.O.P.E. was seen not only as an opportunity for inner-city kids to go to newly supported nonprofit camps, but also as an opportunity for the private camp community to promote camping for all children.
Initially, almost all funding for S.C.O.P.E. came from the camp community. Both private and nonprofit camp directors who served on the original S.C.O.P.E. Advisory Committee reached out to their peers, camp families, and business associates, and raised enough money to send twenty-six children to camp during its first summer in 1992.
Ten years later, S.C.O.P.E. continues to rely heavily on support from the camp community. Camp directors and camp families still populate much of S.C.O.P.E.'s individual donor list, which now also includes a growing list of people outside of camp who have learned of and support S.C.O.P.E.'s mission. In addition to direct donations, private camps also support S.C.O.P.E. with summer fundraisers of their own — encouraging their campers to help S.C.O.P.E. by doing everything from dance-a-thons to penny drives.
In addition to individual and camp support, foundations have played an increasingly important role in S.C.O.P.E.'s expansion over the past few years. In 1994, both The New York Mercantile Exchange Charitable Foundation and The Heckscher Foundation for Children began their support of S.C.O.P.E. Both foundations continue to fund a large percentage of the "camperships" S.C.O.P.E. annually provides. In 2000, further support was received from the Sehorn's Corner Foundation, started by New York Giants' Cornerback Jason Sehorn. In addition to pledging ongoing annual support, Mr. Sehorn started a program called Interception Incentives that donates $1,000 for every completed interception.
Corporate support has also grown since the early years of S.C.O.P.E. More and more, companies both in and out of the camp community are supporting S.C.O.P.E. fundraising events with sponsorships and by giving to its general "campership" fund.
In addition to support received from companies like Fleet Bank and PriceWaterhouseCoopers, camp vendors have become sponsors of S.C.O.P.E.'s Annual Dinner and Casino Night at the Tri-State Camping Conference. Companies like AMSkier Insurance, Camp America, KidsCamps, and Surfbike have been sponsors of this event.
The individual, foundation, and corporate support, along with the money raised at annual fundraisers, have translated into great success for S.C.O.P.E. over the past ten years. In its tenth summer, in 2001, 700 children were offered the opportunity to go to camp. For 2002, the goal is to send at least 1,000 children to camp.
How S.C.O.P.E. Works
Only residential, nonprofit camps that are accredited by the American Camping Association's New York, New Jersey, or Keystone Sections may participate in S.C.O.P.E. All S.C.O.P.E. camps commit to maintaining a high level of quality in facilities, programs, and staff and to the Accreditation Standards of the American Camping Association.
S.C.O.P.E. funds up to $500 for a two-week campership. Thirty-five camps received S.C.O.P.E. funds in 2001, with allocations ranging from $1,500 to over $30,000, depending on a camp's interest and capacity. While S.C.O.P.E. sets the guidelines for camper eligibility, each camp determines which children will be accepted into its program.
The children served by S.C.O.P.E. are economically disadvantaged children whose families cannot afford to provide them with a summer camp experience. S.C.O.P.E. affords these children the opportunity to leave the boredom, pollution, and potential dangers of a city summer and instead experience a supervised, caring community surrounded by positive adult role models.
In order to participate in S.C.O.P.E., potential campers must complete an application to the desired camp that includes a personal history and an assessment of the family's income level. Eligibility for campers is based upon a number of criteria including financial income, age, enrollment in school, and willingness to comply with camp rules. Every child participating in S.C.O.P.E. has a signed application from a parent or guardian verifying the information.
While all S.C.O.P.E. campers meet the same eligibility requirements, each child brings to camp his or her own unique, and often, compelling story. Camp lets children return home with new friends, new skills, and new stories about their special time at camp.
Brandy just celebrated seven years at camp. She started camp on a S.C.O.P.E. campership in 1995, following the death of her brother who was murdered. Brandy had difficulty adjusting to camp, and her behavior reflected her inability to cope with the tragic loss of her brother. She fought often with bunkmates and counselors and was hard to control. The staff worked closely with her that first summer, and was surprised to learn that Brandy wanted desperately to return to camp the following summer. Though reluctant, the camp director agreed to her return, and Brandy's application has been the first to arrive every year since. Last summer, she became a Counselor-in-Training, serving as a wonderful role model for the other campers. Next summer, Brandy plans to return as a counselor. A staff member had this to say about Brandy:
" . . . It is difficult to believe that two weeks at camp could influence a youngster so deeply . . . Thanks to the S.C.O.P.E. program, this young woman was able to turn her life around."
Anthony, a first time S.C.O.P.E. camper, wrote this letter from camp this summer to S.C.O.P.E. donors:
"I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to come to camp. The reason why I like camp better than the city is because I get to meet new people and I won't get into any fights like back at home. If I were in the city, I would have nothing to do and I'd be bored. If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't have been able to learn to swim, or see wild deer for the first time! This was one of the best summers I ever had and you made it happen. I understand that you didn't have to do this for me and I thank you for it. From, Anthony, age 12."
April wants to go camp. When April was only three, she and her two older sisters, watched their father get shot at a local baseball game. Now ten, April has been in counseling and has learned that, in her words, "life goes on." In the essay she wrote for her camp application, she said this:
" . . . There have been times when I feel stressed out. I can use a summer of fun. Something different. I could use some swimming and other fun activities in my life. I know I'm a well-behaved girl and also respectful . . . It hasn't been easy to be raised with one parent. My mom tries to teach me well . . . Please make my dream come true and give me a summer to remember. Thank you."
These are three of seven hundred stories, of seven hundred children, that were told this summer at S.C.O.P.E. camps. There are countless other children whose voices and stories still need to be heard, and S.C.O.P.E. is dedicated to find the funding to provide those children with summer camp experiences.
These children do not have all of the resources they need to get ahead, but we can help. S.C.O.P.E. believes that summer camp opportunities really do provide an edge. A two-week respite and the opportunity to flourish in a camp environment can often provide the edge a child needs to become a confident adult who makes positive choices in his or her life.
Imagine your life without camp. Now imagine Brandy's or Anthony's or April's. S.C.O.P.E. is more than a scholarship program to these children. S.C.O.P.E. is what gives them hope, fun, and skills, as well as relief from the adversity they face at home. S.C.O.P.E. is building memories, two weeks at a time.
- If you are interested in helping S.C.O.P.E., want to learn how your camp can participate, or to get more information about how to start a similar program in your section, please visit the S.C.O.P.E. Web site at www.sendakidtocamp.org. 
Jennifer Flax is the director of S.C.O.P.E. in the American Camping Association New York Section  office. Marc Honigfeld is the chairperson of S.C.O.P.E. and the director of Trail's End Camp in Pennsylvania.
Originally published in the 2002 January/February issue of Camping Magazine.