Grant program helps Alaska summer camps restart after lost year

Children draw at the Kindergarten Boot Camp at Harborview Elementary School in summer 2018. It was the first year the Juneau School District put together the school-readiness camp.
Children draw at the Kindergarten Boot Camp at Harborview Elementary School in summer 2018. It was the first year the Juneau School District put together the school-readiness camp. (Molly Hillis/Juneau School District)

Summer camps are getting a little help this year 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 together 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 ends 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. And many of the organizations that cancelled their programs last year are able to come back this summer.

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.

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