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Staffing issues creating roadblock for summer camps

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Posted at 3:54 PM, May 28, 2021

Kids are ready to go back to camp this summer. Many camps are even reporting higher enrollment rates than in 2019, according to a survey from the American Camp Association (ACA). But staffing issues are creating a roadblock to accommodating that.

“You know, one of the challenges this summer is just the there's a seasonal employment shortage for a lot of seasonal businesses, restaurants, but also the summer camps,” said Tom Rosenberg, President and CEO of the ACA.

A big part of the issue is the lack of applications from American college students. Many had their academic year disrupted and maybe using the summer to play catch up.

But college students from other countries not being able to get to the U.S. is also contributing to the shortage.

“This year was more complicated because of the whole, all the restrictions,” said Marius Verzea, with Politehnica University of Bucharest’s Work and Travel Program.

Work and travel programs account for about 25,000 camp counselors and 5,000 to 6,000 other camp employees. But these students provide more than just their services.

“They’re coming over to bring their cultural identity and lend it to the camp program, and kids learn about other countries through these first-person cultural exchange programs. Really powerful,” said Rosenberg.

J1 visas are now being accepted again, but the U.S. still has a travel ban on 33 countries. And for those that don’t have a ban, there’s been a big delay in getting a required in-person interview at the U.S. embassy. Not as many people have been allowed in at once due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“The U.S. embassy, like they were very strict about this, like keep the distance, we are going to take you guys like one by one and stuff like that, like there they've been strict about that,” said Verzea.

Because of delays and travel bans, some camps are reporting they may have to roll back on operations or cancel them altogether.

The ACA is encouraging anyone looking for a job this summer to consider camp so this doesn't happen.

“They can earn a good salary and also have a really meaningful experience making a difference in the lives of young people. They'll learn hands-on management strategies. They’ll learn conflict resolution. They'll learn communication skills, but also, be outside in nature in a very social and emotionally fun environment,” said