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Scholarships Help Put Summer Camps in Reach

Nothing brings joy quite like summer camp for kids and their parents. There’s no better cure for boredom than learning new skills, experiencing new activities, spending time in nature and making friends along the way. For parents, summer camps are a godsend, especially for working parents seeking a safe and fun place for their kids to spend a portion of their summer break.

“Camp has always been important for kids across many generations to learn new things and have fun with their friends,” said Kim Black, director of camps for the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh. “Since the pandemic, the need is even more important.

“For extended periods, kids weren’t able to participate in activities based upon restrictions and often family dynamics,” she added. “We want to give kids the ability to get out and socialize instead of spending time inside on electronics. Camp gives them the opportunity to unplug, have fun, be a kid, make friends, and reestablish social and emotional connections.”

Fortunately, the greater Pittsburgh area has plenty of summer camp options to choose from, with the YMCA leading the way. YMCA camp counselors are dedicated to making certain camp experiences teach self-reliance while building character in a fun atmosphere.

There are YMCA camps of varying lengths offered throughout the summer, with the longest extending for 11 weeks. The YMCA also opens as early as 7 a.m. for drop-offs, and children can be picked up as late as 6 p.m., which makes things convenient for working families.

“Each week has a different theme, and we center all of the activities around that theme providing opportunities for swimming, arts and crafts, competitive games and nature activities,” explained Black. “We also sneak in some fun literacy things!”

Activities vary by location, which provides plenty of options for campers to choose from. For example, in Homewood, the program includes STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) activities along with arts and crafts, outdoor education and more.

“We build on the camp foundations and expand experiences through field trips,” said Jessica Lausch, vice president of youth development. “Through these trips, we introduce the kids to cultural organizations they might not otherwise be exposed to like museums, the zoo or even a baseball game. Also, our camps include exposure to water safety and swimming, which has always been a YMCA priority.”

For kids seeking a more immersive experience, overnight or resident camping experiences are also available. YMCA Camp Kon-O-Kwee Spencer has been enriching the lives of kids for more than 90 years with outdoor adventures and discoveries. Children and teens choose from dozens of activities and specialty tracks including archery, kayaking, GaGa, acting, jewelry making, team challenges, water activities and more.

“We also run Camp AIM designed for youth with special needs ranging from kids who use wheelchairs to those with mental, physical and psychological challenges,” said Black. “We believe every child needs access to the same experiences and benefits afforded by an outstanding camp experience.”

Financial Aid Options

While everyone likes the idea of summer camps for kids, not everyone has the funds to pay camp fees and tuition. That’s where scholarship funds come into play.

“We run 15 summer camp programs throughout Allegheny County, and we provide scholarships and funding assistance at just about every one of them,” said Black. “We’ve seen the need for financial assistance in all communities across our service area. So many families are struggling to manage expenses while working and striving to provide safe quality care for their children throughout the summer.”

Scholarship options vary by location with different agencies providing funding. While some programs are licensed by the state, others are accredited by the American Camping Association. Funding sources vary depending on several factors.

“State of Pennsylvania childcare programs like Early Learning Resource Centers (ELRC) offer nearly 100 percent for financial need-based scholarships,” explained Lausch. “The state decides whether you qualify and for how much.”

For programs held in parks, the American Camping Association offers various funding sources. Lausch recommends families contact the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh Youth Development business office at to learn which financial aid programs apply to the camps they want their children to attend.

“Our staff can walk families through the process and offer advice,” said Lausch. “We strive to give kids of all backgrounds the opportunity to try, grow and thrive through our summer camp programs.”

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From Vikings to Veterinary Science, Camp Options for Kids

Pittsburgh offers a wide variety of summer camps for kids. Here’s a sample of specialty camps to consider. Some may also offer scholarships or financial aid, so check with each camp to see what they provide.

Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh: Summer camps for ages 4 through 13 explore art, storytelling, nature, game design, metalworking and much more.

Pittsburgh Center for Arts & Media: Art-focused summer camp programs are offered for school-aged children (6-17).

Carnegie Science Center: Kids and teens ages 4-14 have numerous options for summer camp themes at Carnegie Science Center, from stepping into the shoes of space scientists to learning about the Viking Age to diving into video game design.

Pittsburgh Zoo: Five-day-a-week summer camps at the Pittsburgh Zoo are packed with animal encounters, guided tours and themed classroom lessons designed to be fun and engaging. Themes include Extreme Animals, Campaigning for Conservation and Veterinary Camp.

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