Families seeking summer camp options for their child want to provide a fun learning experience, but finding one that?s affordable can be difficult. Cost-effective summer camp programs are available locally and, in some instances, offer financial assistance opportunities.
The Tampa Bay area has a diverse mix of county park systems featuring unique activities and settings for summer campers, and a feasible price tag.
Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation
Both residents and nonresidents can enroll in Hillsborough?s summer camp program, which runs June 17 through Aug. 9 through its Parks and Recreation Division, with no additional fees applied to participants who live outside the county.
While resident (overnight) camps are not available, the county offers more than 15 day camps at $76 per two-week session, $60 for those with reduced-lunch letters and $40 with free-lunch letters. Camps include themed activities, arts and crafts, a summer reading program and one experiential field trip per week.
?"We try to introduce kids to something they may not have been able to do otherwise and to keep them physically active and reading through the summer, so they don?t slide back in their school level, or fitness and health,"? says Shorty Robbins, recreation services division manager for the county.
In addition to day camps, Hillsborough County offers specialty nature camps at $120 per two-week session ($80 with reduced-lunch letter and $60 with free-lunch letter). These focused learning camps offer concentrated lessons in canoeing (Lettuce Lake), fishing (E.G. Simmons) and general nature activities (Upper Tampa Bay). Camps run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with optional before care and after care available for an additional $10 per two-week session.
This year, registration is online to eliminate the hassle of waiting in long lines. Registration starts May 6. For more information, call (813) 635-3500 or go to www.hillboroughcounty.org/summercamps.
Other county summer camp programs available:
PASCO COUNTY PARKS AND RECREATION: Summer Day Camp runs June 24 to Aug. 9 at 10 Pasco locations from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Camps vary in price, with most $45-$60 per week; (813) 929-2760, www.pascocountyfl.net.
PINELLAS COUNTY PARKS AND RECREATION: Pinellas County offers a Herpetology (amphibians and reptiles) one-week camp at Brooker Creek Preserve and wildlife ecology, herpetology and archaeology camps at Weedon Island Preserve. Camps are $150 for the week; (727) 582-2100, www.pinellascounty.org/summercamps.
Summer in the city
Local municipalities can offer reasonably priced summer camp programs with a surprisingly wide array of activities available.
City of Largo
The city of Largo?s summer camp program is open to both residents and nonresidents with the purchase of a recreation card. One-year membership cards are $10 for residents and $59 for nonresidents. This open access can be especially helpful for those who live in another county but commute to Largo for work, notes Krista Pincince, recreational program manager for the city and a mom. ?"It's important as a parent to have your kids closer to your work than your house,"? she says.
Though the city of Largo does not offer resident camps, its day camps typically sell to full capacity because of their affordability and variety. This year, its popular camp Cool Kids Camp, held at the Highland Recreation Complex, offers a new camp location with a double gymnasium, indoor three-story playground and an interactive gaming unit.
Parents can register kids for full-day camps from $65 to $99 weekly for residents and $81.25 to $124 for nonresidents. Multi-week theater camps are offered, as well as half-day specialty camps featuring everything from crafting and creative writing to CSI and aquatics, with most priced at $60 to $80 per week. Before care and after care is available for $5 and $12 respectively for residents ($6.25 and $15 for nonresidents).
Camp registration opened in March, and families must go in person to the Highland or Southwest Complex to enroll. Pincince notes that two scholarship programs are still available and open to residents and nonresidents – the Juvenile Welfare Board program for kids 9 and older and the theater camps scholarship program. For information, call (727) 518-3016 or (727) 518-3125 or visit online at www.largocamps.com.
Other city summer camp programs:
City of Tampa Parks and Recreation: There are multiple camps across the city at nearly two dozen community/activity centers. For more information, visit tampagov.net/dept_parks_and_recreation.
City of St Petersburg: Offering cost-effective summer camps for students grades K-10, the city requires participants to sign up for its Advantage program at $15 for residents and $125 annual rate prorated for nonresidents; (727) 893-7441, www.stpeteparksrec.org.
City of Pinellas Park: Registration opens April 1 for residents and April 8 for nonresidents with themed Summer FunCamps held at Broderick Recreation and Forbes Recreation for ages 6-12 starting at $48-$58; (727) 541-0845, www.pinellas-park.com.
Other organizations in the area that offer families focused itineraries and goal-oriented environments are finding ways to make specialized camps accessible to the whole community.
To take part in the Tampa Y summer camp program, a participant must be a program member and does not have to be enrolled currently at a facility. Program membership annual fees are $60 per individual or $120 per family. All camps have a facility member rate and a slightly higher program member registration fee.
Darren Dannelly, executive director of YMCA Camp Cristina, a 65-acre outdoor center in Riverview, points to the Tampa Y?s successful financial assistance program for enabling many kids to take part in summer camps who might not otherwise. He recommends that families bring their most recent tax return to their local Y so staff members can determine their eligibility.
At Camp Cristina, Tampa Y?s largest camp, traditional day camps run weekly from June 10 through Aug. 16 and cost $140 week for facility members and $160 week for program members. Specialty camps focused on art, cooking, science and more are $170 for facility members and $190 for program members per week. Before and after care is complimentary and parents can save 10 percent if enrolling multiple children for the same week, a savings that Dannelly points out can add up for families enrolling two or three children over 10 weeks.
?We want to provide a safe and fun experience, but it has to be affordable for the community,? Dannelly says.
To learn more about Camp Cristina, call (813) 677-8400 or visit http://www.tampaymca.org%20for more information all participating branches.
Girl Scouts of West Central Florida
The Girl Scouts of West Central Florida (GSWCF) summer camp program is open to any girl grades 2 through 12. If not already a Scout, campers pay a $12 annual fee to become eligible for programming, including day camp, twilight camps and resident camps.
Held at the Leadership Center in Tampa, The Minds for Design Day Camp ($75/week), part of the STEM series, encourages attendees to explore careers in design. Attendees meet female engineers and go on field trips July 15-19 with early drop-off and late pick-up available for $15.
Twilight camps run 5-8 p.m. at Camp Dorothy Thomas in Riverview for $45 for the week.
The Girl Scouts? most popular camps are its one-week resident camps held June 16 through Aug. 3 at its water activity-focused Camp Scoutcrest in Odessa and hiking and horseback riding-themed Camp Wildwood. Both camps include 17 meals plus snacks and counselor attention, and start at $375 per week. For an additional $25, campers can add waterskiing or wakeboarding lessons at Scoutcrest or daily horseback riding instruction at Wildwood. For each additional camp week, a 10 percent discount is applied.
Maura McAllister, program collaborations specialist and director for Camp Scoutcrest, says the GSWCF financial assistance program and its ?camperships? has been a huge success. Families who qualify based on financial need can save 50 percent on camp costs. Last year, 68 girls received camperships. Deadline to apply is April 15 and requires a $50 non-refundable deposit.
Girl Scout camp registration is currently open. Call (813) 281-4475 with any questions during online registration or visit www.gswcf.org/camps/summer_camp.