Balto. Co. camping program needs donors to pay for students

'Campership' program for underprivileged does not have enough money

April 21, 2011|By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun

About 165 underprivileged youth could step out of their routines this summer and enjoy outdoors experiences that include swimming, horseback riding and other programs, if Baltimore County can attract donors to its Campership Project.

Contributions are down significantly for the program, which relies solely on donations and is administered by the Volunteer Office of the county Department of Social Welfare. The project sent 117 school-age children to day and overnight camps last summer at a cost of about $33,000. Plans to enroll about 50 more campers this summer cannot move forward without significant increases in donations, officials said. So far, the project has raised about $26,000.

"It is the economy," said Deborah Ward, director of volunteer services for the county Department of Social Services. "Our donations are down. One business could only contribute half of what it usually gives, and one camp that has offered us scholarships is financially unable to do so this year."

The camping experience can provide a bright spot for children coping with poverty, abuse, the loss of a parent, homelessness and special needs, Ward said. She found a strong supporter in County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who recalled his own summers as a camper and a counselor during a news conference Thursday in Towson.

Kamenetz spoke before a tent full of preschoolers set up on the grounds of the Old Courthouse. The children sang softly as officials launched a fundraising campaign. The prop provided an ideal background, he said.

"I am a big proponent of camp," Kamenetz said. "Kids get to experience nature firsthand and bond with other kids. It is a transforming experience."

For many children, camp is the highlight of their summer, and creates lifelong memories and friendships, Ward said.

"It is our job to help families struggling economically," said Timothy Griffith, social services director. "The niceties, like camp, are typically not government-funded. Camp is not just about having fun. It is an opportunity to learn and grow."

For information about the Campership Project, call 410-853-3021.

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