The hardest part for me is when I have to let some parents know that we are no longer able to give away scholarship money for camp. Despite how much our organization raises, we always wind up running out of scholarship funding—unfortunately, right before summer begins.
For some parents, this means that their children will not be able to go to summer camp.
For those families that can afford the weekly cost, their children are assured a fun and rewarding summer experience. For those that cannot, it's often a blow to their ego, sense of dignity and sense of worth. This blow to one's self-value can be crippling and sometimes reinforces negative feelings toward our club site, our programs and sometimes the children that manage to afford camp. So, our biggest hurdle has always been, "How can we support those families who are unable to attend our program?"
How do we practice genuine empathy, care, and support for parents and children who we will not see during the summer?
While some of these suggestions may seem like a bandage fix on a larger societal, economical and historical problem, we've often found that simply being empathetic to a parent's worries can be incredibly rewarding. Listening to the truth of their concerns and struggles as they relate to summer camp pricing and affordability shows that we're not simply after a monetary bottom line.
If we profess to care unconditionally for children, we must do the same for their families also. Even if they're not part of our program, they're still valuable members of our community.
While summer programming may not be in their immediate future, this doesn't mean that families shouldn't come back for our fall programming, which is typically lower in price. We stress the fact that "not now" is completely different from "not ever." Parents are invited to keep a dialogue going with us throughout the summer in order to offer them additional resources, along with a co-plan for their enrollment in the fall. We're happy to sit down and help parents set money-saving goals so they're able to meet our fall prices, as well as set aside some fall scholarship money for them far in advance.
We look at it like being the people who just miss the cut off for a roller coaster ride—you miss out on an experience and have to wait, but when it's finally your turn, you're in the best possible spot to have an incredible time.
We make sure to have a list on hand of free weekly activities for children through our local library and bookstores, as well as a schedule of summer fairs, events, block parties and other community-organized events. It's important that our families not feel isolated from the larger community because of this one hurdle, and we as an organization want to help set that standard of care.
We like to help parents see that a temporary roadblock is in fact an opportunity waiting to be discovered. A parent's sense of worth ultimately affects the very same children we as an organization hold so dear. A healthy parent is the community's gain.
Written by Wesley Bogan, an Executive Member of NAA and the Program Director and Youth Development Coach for the Germantown Boys & Girls Clubs of Philadelphia. He is working toward his master's degree in Urban Studies & Youth Development as well as his CYC-P certification.