Rising costs, staffing shortages pose challenges for N.H. camps
As the final days of summer are approaching, summer camps in New Hampshire are already thinking ahead to next season — and weighing how to weather the ongoing challenges of staffing shortages, rising costs and more.
New Hampshire Camp Directors Association President Ken Robbins, who also leads Camp Kabeyun in Alton, said at his camp, enrollment is back up to pre-pandemic levels. But inflation is adding a new set of pressures.
“Most camps are already something of a shoestring operation when it comes to getting the supplies that they need to run activities,” Robbins said. “The costs are what they are, and certainly everyone needs to eat, staff needs to be paid with what they are worth. And so now the show must go on, if you will.”
With that in mind, Robbins said it could be a tricky balance to set tuition and fees in the coming year. If costs are too high, he could lose out on families who can't afford to send their kids any longer. If costs are too low, it gets harder to keep the doors open amid rising prices for food, utilities and more.
He said at Camp Kabeyun, demand for tuition assistance is as high as it has ever been this year — and he expects that to grow.
“We're going to see that more next year than we would have this past year,” Robbins said.
This is just one piece of the puzzle facing camp leaders across the state, he said.
"The shrinking summer, the expanding school calendar is a big challenge for camps,” Robbins said. “Availability of staff is a big factor for setting a camp calendar, but it's all little pieces that go into a much more complex puzzle."
Similar pressures are being felt at Copper Cannon Camp in Bethlehem. For nearly 60 years, Copper Cannon has offered a free overnight summer camp experience for qualifying low-income families.
Executive Director Peter Christnacht said he’s always relied on donations and fundraising to keep Copper Cannon’s doors open. This year, he said, it's getting more expensive to keep everyone fed and keep the lights on — but they're doing their best.
“As inflation continues, I mean, next year, I think is going to be more of a struggle,” he said. “It's going to be really interesting, especially with gas prices going up, heating oil going up.”
Christnacht said rising electricity prices will also likely hit camps hard in the year ahead, too.
“I saw Eversource plans on doubling their electrical rate,” he said. “And it's going to have a huge impact on how camps in general proceed.”
Day camps are feeling it just as much as residential camps this summer, but one provider is trying out a new benefit to recruit more staff amid ongoing shortages.
Chris Emond, the CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Central New Hampshire, said his organization started offering free, on-site childcare to all of its employees this summer. The goal, Emond said, is to try to reach people who are open to working in childcare but worry about affording care for their own families.
“We have had some anecdotal success of people applying and saying, ‘Yeah, I'm ready to come back,’” he said. “So that's good. They're coming back into the industry.”
Emond said the Boys & Girls Club of Central New Hampshire is also looking at expanding eligibility for financial assistance to reach more families at higher income levels, to account for rising inflation.
New Hampshire’s Department of Education is also offering another program meant to make camp and childcare more affordable to Granite State families. For the second year in a row, the agency is offering scholarships of up to $650 to cover fees at overnight or day camps. More information on eligibility and participating providers is available here.