For the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic began, Northern Arizona University (NAU) relaunched its summer camp program in 2022.
The nine-week offering provided local children with a variety of exciting activities touching on all developmental areas. Timothy Standifer, the Recreation manager at NAU, said the return of the camp provided a welcomed boost for his department.
“Our camp promise is to ensure our families see their campers get everything they paid for,” said Standifer. “We were very eager to bring this program back, and the response from families was certainly reciprocated. This readdition to our department ensures one of our main revenue streams during the summer can only grow from here.”
Similarly, Valdosta State University (VSU) also brought back its summer camp program after it was halted due to COVID-19. Davy Shaw, the coordinator of CORE Outdoors and Youth Programs, said the pause provided staff with an opportunity to restart the camp from scratch.
“We just revamped for this past year,” said Shaw. “We had very little knowledge that we would be able to have camp in 2021. The biggest struggle for us was we weren’t told we could do camp in 2021 until the April beforehand. So, we couldn’t get registration open until May. We really wanted to reinvent the wheel with more time on our hands in 2022.”
With the Great Resignation making matters even more stressful, this short window for finding counselors and employees was also felt at NAU. Standifer said they were tasked in 2022 with planning, hiring and starting summer camp in a two-month span during the final stretch of the spring semester.
While these situations created a time crunch for both programs, Standifer said it shined a light on the importance of dedicating appropriate time to camp development.
“Start your earliest planning stages during winter break while students are away and your team can really focus on bringing ideas to the table,” said Standifer. “We would also recommend predicting out as many purchases as possible for the entire summer season and have them all in your department by mid-May.”
One successful hiring strategy Taylor Todd, the assistant director of NAU Competitive Sports and Fitness, suggested was reaching out to different departments on campus like Education and Social Services — concentrations that should have plenty of students who are planning on working with youth. “Our counselor staff is entirely made up of NAU students,” said Todd. “We put a lot of trust in them to create many of the program ideas we integrate on a weekly basis.”
The summer camps at NAU and VSU also are similar in that week has its own unique theme. For example, different weekly themes at VSU include vertical week, water week and spirit week. However, having fun themes won’t create excitement in campers unless they are given engaging activities to enjoy.
EXTRA CREDIT: Read about ECU’s revamped summer offerings.
“At the end of the week, we would have a big Archery Tag and Nerf guns day,” said Shaw. “The kids wear masks while playing and have a blast with it. Try and think outside of the box, and don’t be afraid to ask for something new. Be flexible and enable your staff to be creative as well. Make sure they have the tools to do so.”
Shaw said one of the biggest reasons why VSU’s camp is successful is due to the hard restriction they put on the number of yearly attendees. Each year they host only 30 campers total to ensure each child receives an adequate experience.
“Don’t try to overdo it,” said Shaw. “Know what you can do with the resources you have. That’s why we limit it to 30 campers. We want to have a quality program. We could’ve had way more, but it’s about knowing what you can do. We’re trying to rethink what we should be charging. We are potentially trying to charge a little bit more so we can be more profitable in the future.”
To guarantee a successful registration process, Shaw said VSU Campus Rec uses Fusion software and DocuSign to send paperwork out for parents to complete in a timely manner.
NAU uses Fusion as well for its backend registration. However, Standifer said they have a unique take on the process to make it easier for families.
“Our Summer Camp requires individual weekly registration for each week of the camp, as we know many families come and go with vacations scattered throughout the summer,” said Standifer. “This allows families to only commit to the weeks they are here in town providing flexibility for their summer scheduling and plans.”
Due to weekly registration, Standifer said their staffing needs fluctuate to mirror the number of registrants on any given week. He said last time they were successfully able to run the camp in summer of 2019, they averaged around 100 campers per week. A return to that normal is the expectation moving forward.
“We are excited to see the renewed excitement around our summer camp program, and we hope to continue to grow our number of registrants in the years to come,” said Standifer.