While there are not an abundance of free summer camps available to the general public, there are free or low cost summer camps available to children who are living in special circumstances.
Low Cost or Free Summer Camps
Finding a low cost or free summer camp isn't necessarily easy, but the benefits can make all the leg work worth your while. For most summer camps that offer low cost or free enrollment, the campers have some type of special need. "Special need," in this case, can be defined as anything from a medical condition, to a disability, to even living in the inner city.
There are many advantages to participating in a summer camp specially designed for particular needs:
- Staff have extra training in dealing with specific issues.
- There are generally extra medical staff available.
- Activities are geared towards meeting specified criteria according to the kids' needs.
Your Local Parks and Recreation Department
The first place to check for the possibility of a free camp during the summer is your local parks and recreation. While you're probably out of luck if you live somewhere more rural, inner city places are likely to have free activities at your local park. While it's not exactly sleep away summer camp, it is organized and generally well staffed. In addition, they often offer free lunch.
Royal Family Kids' Camp
Royal Family Kids' Camp is a special Christian camp for abused and neglected children. All the children that come to an RFKC are recommended by a staff social worker or psychologist. The entire staff is made up of volunteers, and money is raised throughout the year so that the kids can attend for free. It runs one week during the summer. If you are a foster parent or have a child that you think might qualify to attend, contact your local social services department.
Camp Good Days
Camp Good Days was started by the Mervis family in the late 70's to provide a residential camping experience for their daughter who had terminal cancer. Since then, it has been used as a model for other cancer treatment centers and camps in the world. Their services run year round. If you've been touched by childhood cancer, contact your hospital's pediatric oncology department to find out if there is a Camp Good Days program or something similar near you.
Camp Agape is a Christian based camp that serves children who are grieving the loss of a loved one. The camp is a week long residential camp, and of course the camping experience is free to the family. Campers experience a week of fun, and the goal is to provide a safe environment in which kids can heal from the loss of a loved one. Because the camp is very popular, children must be between the ages of 7 and 12 and must have suffered a new loss. In addition, campers are only allowed to attend once.
Fresh Air Fund
While this isn't exactly a camp in the traditional sense, the fact remains that it still provides inner city children an opportunity to get out of the city and into a more stable environment.
The Fresh Air Fund finds hosts for several hundred children from New York City. The kids stay with a host family for a week or two and hang out with the family. For many of these inner city kids--this is a vacation--and many kids are changed through the experience by being exposed to other ways of living besides just the inner city.
How to Find Camping Opportunities
The best place to look for free opportunities for you child to go to camp is through the professionals. Try any of the following for ideas:
- An association that deals with your child's special need.
- A doctor or psychologist that has been working with your child.
- School personnel that has been working with your child.
- Your local church or religious organization. (Note: Some churches will sponsor children to go to a camp that isn't free--particularly if the family is known to the congregation and has a special need.)