‘Don’t leave it too long’: Summer camp registration in Alberta climbs to near pre-pandemic levels

Click to play video: '‘Don’t leave it too long’: Summer camp registration in Alberta climbs to near pre-pandemic levels'
‘Don’t leave it too long’: Summer camp registration in Alberta climbs to near pre-pandemic levels
WATCH: Summer camp registration in Alberta is back to near pre-pandemic levels. But as Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, now the hunt is on to find the staff to support the demand. – Mar 23, 2023

Charlotte Watkins works at a teen drop-in centre in Okotoks right now, but come May 1 she’ll be at a camp counsellor at the Southern Alberta Bible Camp southeast of Calgary.

Watkins says the leadership and problem-solving skills she picked up last year were great, but it was the relationships with the kids that made her want to return.

“How I get to be a part of their lives and how I get to spend my summer doing that — I couldn’t do anything else that would feel that rewarding,” Watkins said.

Camps around Alberta say they need more people like Charlotte.

Last year, day camps were full but the overnight ones were lagging, a trend that seems to have disappeared.

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“There’s still time to get your kid in if you want to, but don’t leave it too long,” said Nick Wiggins, vice president of operations with YMCA Calgary.

He said Camp Chief Hector, run by the YMCA, is already 95 per cent full. Last year it was at about 70 per cent of pre-pandemic capacity. However, Wiggins said it’s not always about the number of kids that want to attend the popular camp.

Click to play video: 'Here are this year’s summer weather predictions'
Here are this year’s summer weather predictions

“It’s about the counsellors. Unless we have a great staff community, we’re not always able to accommodate all the kids we would like to,” Wiggins said.

“We also need kitchen staff, as well. You’ve probably heard stories about how hard it is to find hospitality staff in the Bow Valley — that impacts us just as much as it impacts everywhere else. We need the whole team.”

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The vice chair of the Alberta Camping Association said registrations are up to nearly 2019 numbers. He said the staff shortage isn’t as bad as last year when camps didn’t have the pool of young people to hire from that would have been trained when the pandemic threw wet blanket over camps.

“Campers that have come through leadership programs have might’ve missed 2020 and 2021 were back in last year and they participated in the leadership program and are ready to become staff this summer, said Nick Taven with Alberta Camping Association.

The YMCA just started hiring day camp staff.

For the whole summer, the YMCA has 7,454 available day camp spots and has filled 5,496 for a 74 per cent overall fill rate.

Click to play video: 'Parks Canada sees huge increase in demand for Alberta campsites'
Parks Canada sees huge increase in demand for Alberta campsites

This year the YMCA is offering several new day camp options, including girls-only basketball and photography.

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Camp Chief Hector YMCA has been in operation for over nine decades and is in the process of raising money to make some major upgrades there.  The target is to raise $14.5 million to make strategic infrastructure improvements.

To date, $4 million has been raised.

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