Quebec summer camps face staff shortages while parents struggle to find available spots

·2 min read
Lauren Ward, a single mom who lives in Montreal's NDG neighbourhood, can't find a nearby summer camp spot for her six-year-old daughter, Audrina. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC - image credit)
Lauren Ward, a single mom who lives in Montreal's NDG neighbourhood, can't find a nearby summer camp spot for her six-year-old daughter, Audrina. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC - image credit)

Lauren Ward, a single mother from Montreal, returned to the workforce as her six-year-old daughter started her first year of elementary school last fall.

With the school year coming to an end, Ward realized she probably needs to register for a summer camp. There's only one problem: she's not finding an open spot anywhere close to home.

"If she doesn't get into camp, they have that saying, ''it takes a village to raise a child.' It's basically going to look like that," said Ward.

"I'm going to have to ask my grandparents, who are retired, to step in."

Ward said she never thought it would be so difficult to get her daughter into an affordable camp, be it a sleep-away or a day camp. There are private options, she said, but they're well outside her price range.

She says parents like her, registering for the first time, are at a disadvantage because these crucial deadlines aren't well promoted.

"We miss out on it," said Ward, who lives in the city's Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood.

"There aren't a lot of notices and things like that."

Tyndale St-Georges Community Centre offers a summer camp in Montreal's Sud-Ouest borough, not far from Ward's neighbourhood. But the camp has only 50 spots and 40 of those are reserved for members of the centre.

Steven Valin, the camp's director, said there are 20 people already on the waiting list, but two years ago, there was no waiting list at all.

"What we've considered is maybe extending our camp season past five weeks, into an eight-week camp," said Valin.

The demand is high this year for summer camp spots across the province, he said, but camps are faced with more than just a waitlist to worry about — there's a lack of staff too.

Sean Day, the regional director of camps for the Quebec YMCAs and director of Camp YMCA Kanawana, said he's usually fully staffed by the end of April.

"And as of today, we still have only hired 75 per cent of our counsellors," said Day.

He said YMCA has made "huge increases" to salaries this year with hopes of recruiting staff, and that has helped somewhat.

Government support of non-profit organizations like the YMCA is important, Day said, and camps need to do their part to reassure potential employees that it is safe for them to return to work after living so long with the pandemic's looming threat.

There are waiting lists at many YMCA camps, Day said, and it's heartbreaking to turn kids away as summer camps are such an important part of their lives.

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