London, Ont. summer camps return with program changes, staff shortages

Click to play video: 'Summer season in jeopardy due to worker shortage at B.C. camp' Summer season in jeopardy due to worker shortage at B.C. camp
It's a safe haven for more than a thousand kids each summer, but the Zajac Ranch for Children in Mission is in danger of keeping the gates closed this year. The camp is having trouble filling key positions, including leadership roles. as Kamil Karamali reports, families hope staffing comes together before it's too late – Apr 12, 2022

From program changes to staff shortage, summer camps near London, Ont., are feeling the impacts of COVID-19.

Jory Elliott, the director of camps, programs and marketing at Pearce Williams Summer Camp and Retreat Facility, says it’s been two years since they ran a summer program.

“That’s lead to the biggest challenge for us where we just don’t have the pipeline to feed staff into the program,” he said. “Some of the traditional pathways that we would find staff (hasn’t) produced more than it normally would.”

Read more: Canada’s summer camps grapple with staffing crunch as COVID-19 pandemic eases

Elliott says the camp, which is located south of St. Thomas, would normally hire about 40 staff each year, most of whom are former campers.

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However, a two-year break disrupted the hiring chain.

Another summer camp, Camp Kee-Mo-Kee west of London, is dealing with the same challenge.

Executive director Jill Hodgins says COVID-19 has greatly impacted the continuity where campers grow up to become counselors.

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“Many kids look from a very young age to becoming that person that they see as a role model at camp,” she says. “The pipeline for staff that are experienced with your camp and camp’s culture… that continuity has definitely affected things.”

Hodgins says the camp was able to find enough staff this summer, but worry that COVID-19 may cause sudden staff shortages.

“It’s not as secure-feeling this summer (as it) has been in the past.”

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Meanwhile, Elliott says Pearce Williams Summer Camp is making program changes to accommodate for a possible staff shortage.

“(We) capped our camper number based on the number of staff we thought we’d be able to secure and that number was 30,” he said.

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The camp has also cancelled school programming this year.

“Traditionally in the spring, a lot of schools come to camp to do their end-of-the-year trips and we run programs for them (but) we didn’t have the trained staff to be able to do that,” he explained. “That’s an additional financial hit.”

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Summer camps across the province are struggling this summer.

Raf Choudhury, owner and founder of Baseline Sports, says he normally hires between 15 and 20 young adults to work at his summer camps in the Toronto region.

But he says so this season, he’s only managed to hire five people.

Choudhury says he feels the young adults he normally hires realized during the pandemic that they valued their summer leisure time and they’ve decided to work less or not at all this year.

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Nick Georgiade, the director of Camp Temagami in northeastern Ontario, says staffing is a challenge every year, and he hasn’t had a tougher time finding people.

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However, his canoeing camps require many courses and certifications that were halted during the pandemic, and that meant he had to start hiring and arranging training for his staff much earlier in the year.

-With files from 980 CFPL’s Devon Peacock and Mike Stubbs and The Canadian Press

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