Do expensive summer camps leave military kids behind?


For some military children, the highlights of the summer are low-key events like playing at the beach, going to the swimming pool on base, seeing movies at the base theater, and eating popsicles in the backyard. They may hear of friends who attend a week of soccer camp with a professional player, overnight Boy Scout Camp full of canoeing and hiking, or a week-long science camp at a college campus. . . but they can only dream of such events.

Many military children have never experienced going to a summer camp because their family cannot afford such activities.

Are military kids missing out during the summer?

Most of the military spouses I know do not have a full-time job. They either stay home raising children, find part-time work after a PCS move, or are currently pursuing a degree while they are in between jobs. Military spouse unemployment is currently four times higher than their civilian counterparts of the same age. Even military spouses who want to work have a hard time finding jobs. Affordable child care is cited as one of the major hurdles.

Military families often find themselves in a catch-22 during the summer months: Both parents need full-time jobs to afford childcare and summer activities, but without children enrolled full-time in such activities, the military spouse is unable┬áto work. Since military families are often stationed far from family and can’t rely on grandparents to help watch the children, the cheapest option often means unemployment for one parent.

Summer camp options military families can afford

However, summer isn’t all bad news and disappointment for military kids. There are some camps that are affordable for military families. If your kids are complaining about being bored this summer, or you worry that they are missing out on memorable opportunities, then consider enrolling them in some of these programs.

Vacation Bible School: Most Christian churches offer a week-long day camp called vacation bible school, VBS, or bible camp. These programs typically run in the morning hours and do not provide meals besides snack. They are usually free or low-cost camps, run by volunteers. Grade school children ages five to 13 will have fun as they engage in outdoor games, craft projects, snack time, and singing. Of course, instruction in the Christian faith and the Bible is part of the program. Your child can enroll in several VBS programs during the summer. They are not limited to attending only at your own church. Research programs around you and ask if your child’s friends are attending camps at other churches. Children will enjoy this camp more if they attend with friends or siblings.

YMCA camps: The YMCA has numerous benefits for military families. We have previously outlined some of their discounts and military programs here. The YMCA offers numerous summer camps and special programs for children. Some are designed for parents who work full-time, but there are also part-day camps and classes for special interests ranging from sports to Legos to Star Wars. Using a military discount of a membership discount is the way to make these camps affordable. Talk to the YMCA near you to learn if they have a military discount for swim lessons, soccer camp, or Princess Day Camp. Your kids will thank you.

City and county programs: These programs vary depending on your local city or county parks and recreation programs. Most cities and counties offer youth sports or day camps during the summer. In areas near military bases, these programs sometimes give military children priority for enrollment or offer a special military discount. Affordable programs fill up quickly, so parents should begin to research in the spring and set an alarm on the day enrollment begins. In our county, there is a special grant for military families to give them a half-price discount on community activities. Applying for the grant takes a few weeks, but paying half the cost for sports and summer camps is a huge benefit.

Charity organizations: Several military charities run free summer camps for military children or families. Some of those camps are outlined in our article here. Those are national organizations that run camps at locations throughout the country. There are also numerous local charities not listed that host just one summer event for military kids. Ask around and find out of there are military charities offering summer camps near you! I was surprised to learn that the Seven Stars Foundation provides free passes to a traditional week-long summer camp for children of Gold Star and Purple Heart families. Because of this grant, my military children will get to attend an outdoor summer camp after all.

By Lizann Lightfoot

Lizann Lightfoot is an associate editor at Military One Click and a Marine Corps spouse. She can be reached at lizann@militaryoneclick.com.

4 Comments

  1. I think it is unfair to use a picture of a Boy Scout camp to represent “expensive” summer camps. Not all Boy Scout camps are expensive. Further, many troops are associated with military – some troops use meeting spaces on military bases. Some troops are chartered by military units. Some troops are composed of military children. We have experienced all three scenarios on CONUS, Europe, Hawaii, and Korea. In each case, the individual troop makes every effort to ensure all its Scouts can attend a summer camp through selecting an inexpensive camp, fundraising throughout the year, and scholarships for those in need.

    I am also disappointed you portray military families as “poor”. Even if a military spouse does not work (as I don’t), the Department of Defense has taken great strides to offer quality programming for military families throughout the year. In fact, I believe military families have greater access discounted and/or free programs. In comparison to civilian families with the same income, military families have more available to them as a benefit.

    Military life is a challenge – but those challenges are rewarded with a greater opportunity for military families to engage in a wider range of activities compared to the average American family.

  2. Our YMCA Camp Greenville offers FREE camp to military children of wounded, disabled or fallen military service members through the Golden Coral. “Camp Corral” is the first week of summer camp and a fabulous experience for these children!

    My husband was active duty for 13 years and is a veteran. I’m a nurse and LOVE volunteering at this camp. ­čĺŚ

    Call the Camp Corral hotline if you would like more information 1-855–605-1267

  3. Great summary of where to look for inexpensive camps – I could have used this when my kids were young. Another place to look for reasonably priced programs is your county or city recreation department. My experience has been many summer camps can strain the pocketbook of even dual income families. As for the remark about Boy Scout camps – it certainly depends on what camp is selected, but I found them to be somewhat costly, though some of the best camps my kids ever attended (quality of camp staff and camp program).

  4. I do t think this article was portraying military families as “poor” but saying it’s hard to do many things with one income. Also a thing to remember is that once your service member hits a certain rank most of us a are not eligible for the free or discounted stuff due to the rank. I feel that no matter the rank we all should be able to take advantage of the free or discounted stuff offered to us, it’s like we’re being disregarded for being of a higher rank so we can afford everything and that’s not true. I can’t even get the tution grant for school because of rank and I can’t afford to pay out of pocket or get student loans, I can’t find scholarships or grants but what is saving me for school tution is FASA only, but if I didn’t have that I couldn’t go to school. There has been many things my child has not been able to participate in due to us being of a higher rank so we don’t qualify for the free or discounted stuff. So yes if you don’t have two incomes lots of military kids miss out on a lot of stuff. My son is in he Boys Scouts and we save at the start of the year for his summer camp even though his troop would pick a less expensive camp to go to but we still had to save months in advance for him to go. There’s also sports that need to be paid for that don’t give discount for military so we have to save for that as well to pay registration when it comes time. It’s not easy having only one income no matter what rank you are in the military or if you’re not in the military or if you’re retired from the military.

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