Campership program eases strain of summer for working parents
FAIRFIELD — This summer, Social Services’ annual campership program has made strides in alleviating financial burdens for working families.
While for many, the summer is a welcome time for relaxing at home, these months could present a great deal of stress for low-income, working parents. With school out of session and working hours remaining consistent, many parents struggle to pay for expensive summer day care.
That’s where the campership program comes in.
Coordinated by social workers Eileen Fickes and Allison Barker-Ford from the town’s Department of Human and Social Services, camperships aim to ease the strain of summer by providing funding for summer camp.
Barker-Ford explained many Fairfielders aren’t aware of the number of financially needy families in the town. Social Services, meanwhile, works every day to aid such families with food stamps, electricity assistance and more.
“Even though Fairfield’s a small town, there are still a lot of pockets of poverty,” Barker-Ford said.
The campership program is one of the newer additions to this list of assistance programs, having grown immensely in the last few years. When Barker-Ford joined the department six years ago, she said, they would provide three to five scholarships a year. This year, they served 51 children.
A large portion of campership recipients attend the town’s Parks and Recreation Department Playground Camp. Other popular programs include Ole Soccer camps, as well as camps run by the Girl Scouts of Connecticut and the YMCA.
This year, Social Services also partnered with Fairfield University to send children to the University’s summer arts intensive camps, which provide courses ranging from fashion design to hip hop.
Families enrolled in the program are responsible for choosing a camp to send their child too, and Social Services will then step in and determine funding.
The nature of each funding request differs by the camp, with some camps donating free tuition for students in the campership program and others asking for a contribution, often at a reduced rate. In these cases, Social Services will pay a maximum of $300 per child. On average, they end up contribution around $200 per child.
Most of this money comes from fundraising efforts. This year, Social Services raised almost $5,000 at their second-annual comedy night fundraiser in March. The town’s PTA also contributed a sizeable donation this year, in addition to a few private donors.
Any outstanding funding required after donations is paid for from the town’s budget. While in the first few years of the program, town money contributed to the majority of funds, Fickes said they have taken steps in recent years to reduce town money and rely more heavily on donations.
As time has gone on, the program’s enrollment has skyrocketed as knowledge of it has spread largely by word of mouth, Social Services officials said.
Many working-class families in Fairfield aren’t aware of the extent of the department’s offerings, and Fickes hopes the program can be a way to get families into the system and involved in other programs, especially their back-to-school shopping aid that follows at the end of the summer.
As its popularity grows, Social Services plans to grow the program accordingly, creating new camp partnerships and revving up fundraising.
“I hope to keep pace with the demand,” Fickes said.