Funds Help Support Summer Camp Experiences For Youth
For Brendan Chambers, the summers he spent at YMCA Camp Onyahsa were some of the most formative experiences of his life.
Working his way up from camper to waterfront director, Chambers spent nearly every summer from the ages of 9 until 21 at the camp property along Chautauqua Lake.
“Camp played a huge role in shaping who I am,” Chambers said.
And while traditional summer camps have long been celebrated as a place for youth to engage in developmentally enriching experiences, both camp directors and community leaders recognize that the cost of camp creates significant challenges for many families.
In 2020, American Camp Association’s accredited camps reported that 76% of youth attending day camps and 79% of youth attending overnight camps were from middle and high-income families.
“The last two years have seen fees increase to meet the costs of COVID-related supplies, as well as, to cover the increased costs of living,” said Tom Rosenberg, ACA president and CEO. “There are so many young people who need access to the educational and developmental benefits of camp and lack the financial resources to pay the full cost.”
As the average cost of attending a weeklong camp, days or overnights, averages around several hundred dollars per person, for many families summer camp is just a summer dream.
Now a banking executive in North Carolina, Chambers remembers the time he spent as a kid selling candy bars to help off-set the cost of camp and has found many ways to give back so that others may have the Onyahsa experience.
In addition to serving on advisory and fundraising committees at the camp, several years ago Chambers and his wife, Amy, established the Chambers Family Campership Fund at the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, a permanent fund that annually grants dollars for local youth to attend Camp Onyahsa.
“It means a lot to us to be able to share the camp experience with others,” Chambers said. “One of the coolest things about (camp) is how it brings everyone together to learn from one another. You really gain a greater appreciation, not just for the world around you, but yourself as well.”
The Chautauqua Region Community Foundation works with individuals, like Chambers, who want to ensure that every child interested in camp has the financial means to do so. The Community Foundation administers nearly a dozen endowment funds that help defray the cost of summer camp experiences for local youth each year. This year alone the Community Foundation granted over $50,000 from these funds.
“While summer camp can be an incredible bonus experience, the reality is that for families with working parents, summer camp becomes a necessity for safe, quality childcare – and an expensive one at that,” said Tory Irgang, Community Foundation executive director. “By working with donors and organizations, we are utilizing our dollars to support working families and create memorable, enriching experiences for local youth.”
Community Foundation dollars were used to upgrade and improve camp facilities and programming, and provide camperships to Allegheny Highlands Council, BSA, Girl Scouts of Western New York, Winifred Crawford Dibert Boys and Girls Club of Jamestown, and YMCA Camp Onyahsa.
At Camp Merz, 33 scouts received camperships, more than half of them from Chautauqua County.
“We tried really hard this year to get every camper who applied for camperships the money they needed to attend camp,” said Nate Thornton, Allegheny Highlands Council BSA scout executive. “We felt it was really important to just get kids back to camp and experience all that we have to offer.”
According to Thornton, camp is so much more than just exploring the outdoors, it’s where youth can come together on common ground and really learn about themselves.
“We’ve got kids from every walk of life coming together, wearing the same uniform and they get the exact same experiences,” Thornton said. “For a lot of kids, this is their first-time leaving home and it’s really cool to see how they thrive during their time here.”
Similar sentiments were echoed by Brenda Wilson, whose husband, Dick, was a longtime assistant leader to a local Boy Scout troop.
“Scouting teaches loyalty, being good to one another, being good to nature and how to help others,” Wilson said. “That’s what was important to Dick.”
Following his death in 2019, the Wilson family created the Richard G. Wilson Boy Scout Campership for Camp Merz Fund at the Community Foundation for Chautauqua County scouts.
“Our boys learned so much from Dick and their scouting experiences,” Wilson recalled. “The lessons they learned enriched their lives and they share those with their families. Today, we’re able to pass all that on to a new generation.”
A LASTING LEGACY
Like Dick, Virginia Booth Tener shared her passion for scouting with her children and grandchildren. One of the founding members of Girl Scouts of Western New York’s Camp Timbercrest in Randolph, both Tener and her granddaughter Erica spent countless hours at the camp.
Although Erica’s time as a camper and counselor have come to an end, she remains closely tied to camp through her volunteer efforts with Friends of Timbercrest. Earlier this year, she created an endowment fund at the Community Foundation in memory of her grandmother.
“(My grandmother) had such a zest for life and passed on her love of Girl Scouting to me,” Erica said. “I still consider Timbercrest to be the happiest place on earth.”
The Virginia Booth Tener Timbercrest Campership Fund will annually grant dollars to the Girl Scouts of Western New York for local scouts, counselors, and troops to fully embrace all that Camp Timbercrest has to offer.
According to Juanita Washington, Girl Scouts of Western New York executive vice president of marketing, funds like this directly reflect the Girl Scout sisterhood and ensures future campers have access to opportunity.
“More than ever, it is critical for the next generation of female leaders to discover their voices and how they want to impact the world,” Washington said. “Our summer camp programs allow them that space, guidance and growth.”
The Chautauqua Region Community Foundation currently administers more than 700 permanent funds that support emerging needs, charitable organizations and students pursuing higher education and job training. At the end of 2021 the Foundation’s asset level was $142 million. To learn more about how you can work with the Foundation to create a lasting impact in our community, visit crcfonline.org or contact their office at 716-661-3390.