Summer 2020 was a summer like no other; it was the first time in Camp Ak-O-Mak’s 92 year history that we were unable to operate. We were not alone in this; overnight camps across Ontario, along with many other provinces, were not allowed to run and while day camps were able to go ahead they still faced significant challenges.
Because of these closures, summer camps throughout Ontario and Canada are facing serious financial challenges and threats to their survival. Here is what you need to know about the situation and how you can help Camp Ak-O-Mak and other cherished summer camps stay afloat as we all face the pandemic together:
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted summer camps in Ontario?
On May 19, the Ontario provincial government announced that overnight summer camps (including Camp Ak-O-Mak) in the province would not be allowed to operate during the summer of 2020.
Overnight camps lost 100% of their revenue from registrations but the same can’t be said for expenses. Even without campers present, camps still need to pay for expenses such as insurance, utilities, maintenance and property taxes. With no revenue and bills still to pay, the financial health and survival of many overnight camps are in jeopardy.
Day camps, while permitted to operate, didn’t escape the economic perils of the pandemic. Camps that did operate for the summer faced overcoming the challenge of adapting their operations to local public health regulations such as social distancing and cohorting campers, as well as additional costs from lower camper-to-staff ratios, reduced capacities and purchasing PPE, hand sanitizer and additional cleaning supplies.
Why are summer camps so important?
Summer camp plays an important and cherished role in the lives of so many children and youth. Really, where do we begin? It’s a place for youth to make new friends, try new activities, gain confidence in a new environment and develop leadership skills, just to name a few.
Summer camp may be about growing up in a place where the socioeconomic class was irrelevant, or perhaps we/they had their first equal opportunity, or they were not bullied at camp unlike at school and realized their value as a human being. For others, it could be that they had special needs or couldn’t afford camp, but were given the opportunity and how it changed their life.
Many families also rely on summer camp as their form of childcare for some or all of the summer. With the extended closure of schools, we’ve all see what a challenge it can be, particularly for women, when childcare is unavailable. Summer camp plays an important role in filling the childcare gap during school holidays.
Finally, summer camps aren’t just fun and games; they make a significant contribution to our economy. Across Canada, summer camps contribute over $2-billion to the economy and create more than 70,000 jobs. A large percentage of those jobs are students in their late teens or early twenties; for many of them, it may be their first job and is an important source of income to pay for post-secondary studies.
What should the government do to help Ontario’s summer camps?
Financial support, similar to what has been given to other industries to ensure their survival, is necessary from both the federal and provincial governments. The Ontario Camps Association (OCA) is lobbying the federal government for a $200-million sustainability fund and for $30-million from the provincial government.
The Ontario Camps Association (OCA) is lobbying the federal government for a $200 million sustainability fund, and the Ontario government for an additional $30 million, to help camps survive the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the announcement that the federal government is extending the wage subsidy into summer 2021, they may need to incorporate additional flexibility into the program to ensure summer camps meet the requirements.
What can I do to help?
The most important thing you can to help Ontario’s summer camps is to write to your local Member of Parliament or Member of Provincial Parliament requesting assistance for summer camps and sharing how important they are to you and your family.
Tell them how camps are integral to our lives – and that without the positive influence of camps, chances are we/they would not have succeeded or been able to contribute to society in the meaningful way(s) that we/they have. Please write a heartfelt and personal letter telling your story of camp.
We are grateful for anyone who can help us stand together and stand strong for our summer camps across Ontario and Canada. Thank you for your support, we are already counting down the days until we can welcome our girls back for Camp Ak-O-Mak 2021!