Grants support summer camps, more to come

Jun 4, 2021

Credit Kenai Watershed Forum

Summer camps this year are getting a little help from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services in the form of one-time grants. The Alaska Community Foundation and the Rasmuson Foundation are helping to administer the program, which sent out about $1.26 million in aid last week to various camp programs all over the state.

There was enough need that the grant program is now open again through June 22, this time with help from the Municipality of Anchorage. Eleanor Huffines is the vice president of programs and grants with the Alaska Community Foundation.

"We started to receive a number of calls from people who just missed the opportunity and were still looking for support," she said. "And that’s why the state, the Municipality of Anchorage, Rasmuson, and the ACF got to gether said, ‘Let’s open up another grant cycle. It’ll be smaller, we won’t have as much funding, but there’s still some need and people who missed the first opportunity, so we’re going to do our best to get the word out and get it out the door quickly."

The first round of funding went quickly, and some people who were eligible didn’t hear in time to apply. Huffines said this round of funding is open until June 22, with plans to get it out to applicants by July 1.

The Rasmuson Foundation originally pitched the idea to support summer camps, and quickly got about $1.5 million in requests. Summer camps came up as a major need, with last year’s loss in revenue leading to staff layoffs and lower revenues. The state chipped in with about $1 million from its leftover CARES federal aid. This second round comes from the same partnership, but the Municipality of Anchorage is bringing in some of its funds from the American Rescue Plan. Huffines said it’s a smaller amount of money for the grants this time, but the administrators hope it will help meet some of the need.

"I think there’s a general support for youth," she said. "I think there was a recognition that as the pandemic is ongoing there continue to be needs as parents are getting out of work and youth are out of school. I think the summer was really  about looking at the needs across the state and the timeline for youth being out of school and parents going back to work, and kids also needing more engagement and fun now that people are getting vaccinated and there is more ability to get together."

Last summer left many parents at a loose end with their kids—school had been out since March, but the annual flood of summer camps, festivals, fun runs and other activities were all cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, it looks like there won’t be any shortage of things to do again.

With reported COVID-19 cases dipping below 100 statewide each day, most of the state is reopening. The vaccination rate on the Kenai Peninsula is hovering around 44 percent of all ages with at least one dose—that’s right on level with the statewide average.

Many of the organizations that cancelled their programs last year are able to come back this summer. Four grantees on the Kenai Peninsula received funds through the program: The Boys and Girls Club of the Kenai Peninsula, Hope Community Resources, Solid Rock Ministries, and Homer Council on the Arts.

There are plenty of camps about to start popping up on the Kenai Peninsula and Southcentral Alaska. For example, Solid Rock Bible Camp runs a variety of overnight camps starting on June 16, with many of the camp sessions packed already. Other organizations, like the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, plan to run some day camps starting June 21, and the Kenai Watershed Forum plans to continue its pop-up day camps alongside its youth naturalist camps, starting June 7. Other organizations, like the Challenger Learning Center in Kenai, are offering educational day-camp programs as well, for age ranges first through sixth grade.

Huffines said anyone interested in applying for the summer camp grants can find more information about them online or can call the Alaska Community Foundation.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabethearl@gmail.com.