It's hard to believe that summer is almost here! Earlier this spring, we sought input from camps about enrollment and campers, camp staff, and well-being as part of the Summer 2023 Trends and Issues Survey.
In this blog, we focus on questions that asked about respondents' most anticipated challenges pertaining to campers and camp staff in summer 2023.
Overall, we had 457 usable responses (although not every respondent answered every question or completed the entire survey). Of those who responded, about 65 percent represented camps that ran all or mostly overnight programming and about 28 percent represented camps that ran all or mostly day camp programming. In terms of camp sponsorship, about 39 percent represented a nonprofit camp affiliated with another agency, 40 percent represented an independent nonprofit camp, 18 percent represented independent for-profit camps, and 4 percent represented a for profit camp affiliated with another entity.
We started out by asking respondents to select the option that best represents the most challenging issue related to campers that they were anticipating this summer. Looking at the figure below, which shows the results of this question, you can see that the most anticipated challenges regarding campers were: camper behavior while at camp, enrolling new campers, and some other unique challenge not captured in the list of options presented.
With this question, we also asked respondents to describe these challenges for us. We decided to look deeper into the three aforementioned challenges that most respondents selected as their most anticipated challenge regarding campers (i.e., camper behavior while at camp, enrolling new campers, and other challenges). The three tables below present the top themes that emerged from participants open-ended responses to this question.
Top 5 Camper Challenges Themes Regarding Camper Behavior While at Camp
|behavior management/ability to address camper behaviors||Ensuring all behaviors are addressed appropriately; behavior management plans; managing camper behaviors has increased|
|Difficult behavior||Challenging behavior is not a new challenge for us at camp, however it remains our most challenging issue. Our urban campers are very quick to punch and push. De-escalation is the best skill to teach our staff, but on the rare situation that it does escalate, it’s a challenge.; bullying|
|MESH/Mental Health||Increasing mental health challenges, bullying, peer to peer harassment; MESH issues, issues related to LGBTQIA+; Related to MESH, COVID disruption, trauma|
|Developmental delays||Kids are behind, we need to adjust expectations; still seeing impact from pandemic|
|Social/Emotional||Anxiety issues; we see lots of social anxiety; group living stressors on campers, social-emotional hurdles|
Top 3 Camper Challenges Themes Regarding Enrolling New Campers
|COVID||Enrolling our oldest age group in our Adventure Trip programs which are rebuilding from pandemic years.; Referral processes were disrupted during COVID and are still being rebuilt; we missed a few years of new campers, so our overall enrollment has suffered|
|Enrollment||We are working on growing our enrollment and finding the best ways to market our program; registration is lower than normal|
|New Audiences||Findings campers outside the school community; finding ways to promote and reach new campers; we are struggling reaching new markets in order to re-grow our camper base following the pandemic|
Top 3 Camper Challenges Themes Regarding Other Anticipated Camper Challenges
|Staff||Staffing; staff recruitment to meet camp needs; the volume of campers and the lack of staffing; turning campers away due to staff shortages|
|Money||Funding for campers; a very tight budget due to the current economy|
|climate||Threat of wildfires; Extremely large winter snow-pack ... it's May and we still have 2-3 feet of snow on the ground (we are at 8,000')|
Shifting to look at camp staff, we asked a similar question regarding anticipated challenges related specifically to camp staff. The figure below details the responses to this question. Overwhelmingly, respondents indicated that they anticipated recruiting qualified staff to be their most challenging issue related to camp staff, followed by staff mental, emotional, or social health, and increased salaries/wages.
In parallel with the question about anticipated challenges pertaining to campers, with this question, we also asked respondents to describe these challenges for us. Again, we looked deeper into the three challenges that most respondents selected as their most anticipated challenge this summer regarding staff (i.e., recruiting qualified staff; staff mental, emotional, or social health; and increased salaries/wages). The three tables below present the top themes that emerged from participants open-ended responses to this question.
Top 5 Staff Challenges Themes Regarding Recruiting Qualified Staff
|Specialized skills||Cook, health supervisor, etc.; difficult to find experts for certain areas!; lifeguards; riding director; very specialized roles|
|Not enough qualified staff||Incredibly challenging to find enough qualified staff; trying to find instructors with experience; we’re running a shortened summer due to lack of qualified/returning staff|
|Male staff||Especially male-identifying staff; Staff recruitment has been a challenge, but male recruitment has been downright dreadful.|
|Not enough applicants||Fewer people applied; hard to get enough applicants; not seeing the volume of applications we did Pre COVID|
|Full summer/season||Getting a commitment especially for the whole season has been very difficult; Staff don't want to commit to the entire summer|
Top 3 Staff Challenges Themes Regarding Staff Mental, Emotional, or Social Health
|Mental Health||Mental health; staff being able to navigate the challenges of camp and maintain healthy mental health|
|Camp support||The need is evident we need to do more; we have a huge desire to accommodate for this; supports necessary through training and continued supports necessary|
|Less resilient||Staff resiliency; staff do not seem to be as resilient as before COVID|
Top 3 Staff Challenges Themes Regarding Increased Salaries/Wages
|Staff raises||Need to pay staff more; wages up; we’re continuing to raise salaries, but perhaps not aggressively enough.|
|Pay expectations||Pay expectations keep going up; staff are expecting more|
|Balancing the budget||How to increase revenue, keep camp affordable, and be fair and honest to staff’s wages; trying to provide a fair wage for our staff and maintaining affordable rates for campers|
Photo courtesy of Andrew "Doc" Session Community Center in Fort Worth, TX.