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Jewish camps are hurting because of an increase in requests for financial aid

If there was any doubt that the economic crisis was going to effect not just fund raising, but put further pressure on organizations and foundations by increasing the need for services, all one has to do is look at the state of Jewish summer camps.

Overnight Jewish camps across the board have seen a dramatic increase in requests for financial aid, according the Jerry Silverman, the executive director of the Foundation for Jewish Camp.

“The pressure on the scholarship line to support families has been at the highest point that they have seen in many, many years,” Silverman told me Tuesday. “In my time haven’t seen this type of situation from a sense of pressure on the percentage of dollars they are being asked to use support their campers.”

Camps across the country have been hit with the increased need, said Silverman. Many have been forced to cut other budget items, such as off-campus trips, food and maintenance staff, busing to and from camp, and capital improvements to make up for the scholarship crunch.

The FJC is trying to double the number of Jewish kids enrolled in Jewish overnight camps and gives non-need-based incentives to first-time campers through its “Campership” program. It has never been in the business of giving need-based scholarships.

But for the first time, Silverman said, the foundation is considering rolling out a financial aid component. In New York, it is running a pilot program with two camps to help the poorest of the poor attend camp – and to help them with supplementary money to pay for clothes and other ancillary camp expenses.

In New York, the UJA Federation of New York has increased its budget for scholarships for day camps from $400,000 to $550,000 to help ease the situation, Louise Greilsheimer, the federation’s senior vice president for agency and external affairs told me.

The federation also has a campership program to give partial scholarships to first-time campers. But it saw a slowing in the growth of the project this year as fewer than expected parents applied for the scholarships. Despite the discount that the scholarships give, parents simply cannot afford to pay the rest of the price of camp tuition, Greilsheimer said.

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(If you know of anyone who has been personally affected by the high cost of summer camp, and who has had to forgo camp because of economic reasons, I would love to speak with them. I will of course keep them anonymous if they choose. Contact me here.)

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