What an extraordinary summer we had — with unparalleled challenges in staffing; mental, emotional, and social health (MESH); and operational challenges juxtaposed with campers and staff reclaiming joy and in-person, social-emotional agility. Heroic camp professionals across the country deserve the heartfelt thanks of a grateful nation for their exceptional leadership and dedicated service to millions of children and youth in this historic time. You have all worked tirelessly to overcome crippling seasonal staffing shortages, difficult financial conditions, and a myriad of other hardships, including food supply chain disruption and mental health crises.
With virtually everyone experiencing trauma in some form or another from the continuing pandemic, camp directors have shared that this summer many campers, staff members, and camp parents presented amplified symptoms of anxiety, psychological stress, and depression. This translated into more homesickness, heightened emotional reactivity, and increased MESH needs. Together, camp professionals persisted through these unprecedented obstacles to provide physically and emotionally safe, joyous, and healthy learning experiences for over 20 million school-aged campers.
Summer camp has never been needed more for all children, youth, and adults than it was in the summer of 2021. Summers to come will also be critical as we work together to counteract the persistent emotional consequences of the pandemic and other adverse childhood experiences, in addition to social-emotional and academic learning losses. Yet camps of all types, sizes, and modalities across the United States have experienced extreme economic distress and a diminished capacity to serve children and youth. In response, the American Camp Association's (ACA's) advocacy team continues to fight for direct industry relief for the field to help camps recover.
The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored for all parents, educators, and community leaders how developmentally beneficial camp experiences are for young people today and how crucial national field expansion is if we are to increase access to camp for more under-resourced families. ACA’s strategic goals are laser-focused on advocating for all children and youth by establishing camp as a vital and enriching educational experience — and advancing camp’s reach and relevance by expanding equitable access to camp and growing the camp community through diversity and inclusion.
New state and federal funds were made available this year through the American Recovery Plan to underwrite evidence-based summer programs, including camp for children and youth from low-income family backgrounds. However, to access those funds, increased local partnership with schools is essential. ACA is working to provide camps with tools and connections to make that happen. For example, this summer our research team has been developing a white paper tool to assist camps in seeking those partnerships. We are excited about the opportunities ahead for camps partnering with local educational authorities in communities nationwide to access the funding to provide pivotal educational and developmental programming to under-resourced children and youth.
Over the past months, enrollment surveys have revealed how many new families across the country have been eagerly seeking camp programs for their kids. Demand will continue to skyrocket for summer opportunities. As the entire field works to recover from the pandemic and thrive once again, ACA is working hard to support that effort and strengthen our collective ability to grow inclusively and diversely as a treasured and critical American institution.