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Summer youth programs trying to keep up with increased demand

Program administrators are challenged to find additional staff, and the price for some programs, like everything else, has gone up.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — As the pandemic wanes, more parents are seeking activities for children through summer youth programs.

Agencies are trying to accommodate increased demand but face some challenges. 

"A lot of parents are going back into the office. They can't keep their kids at home anymore/ They feel more comfortable with them joining programs like this," said Nicole Ruberto, Recreation Coordinator and Youth Bureau Director for the Town of Tonawanda.

The town is one of many offering a summer day camp for children.

"We have about 160 campers ages 4-11 every day, and it filled up very quickly  back in March when we had open enrollment," Ruberto said.

While the town has the space to accommodate additional campers in its program, it doesn't have the additional staff to make more slots available.

"We had job fairs, we were advertising on social media, we were going into the high schools and colleges to try to attract new employees, and we just didn't get enough to be able to open our enrollment anymore than we are currently at," Ruberto said.

"Staffing has been difficult throughout the year just like everywhere else, " said Brenna Lupo, Vice President of Education and Child Care Services for the YMCA in Western New York.

The YMCA is one of the area's largest providers of summer programs for kids, and runs everything from local day camps, to those where parents send children away for a time to experience a traditional summer camp experience.

"We didn't have to cut anything back from last year in terms of the number of programs, but compared to the pre-COVID years, we are down on enrollment due to staffing. In other words, we're still serving the same amount of kids as last year, but in previous years our camp enrollment numbers were higher because we were able to recruit more staff," said Lupo, noting that state laws require a certain amount of staff per campers. Amid staff shortages the number of children who can participate is limited.

It may not surprise anyone to know that, like everything else in these inflationary days, the costs for these camps and other programs are on the rise.

"We try to keep it as affordable as as possible, but out camp costs per week for parents has gone up about 6 to 8 percent," said Lupo. "But our overall costs that we pay out to vendors, whether it's for bussing or supplies, or even for staff, have gone up significantly higher than that."

Parents are advised not to get discouraged if their first choice isn't available, and to call around as there may be another agency offering something for your child which they will enjoy.

Meanwhile, more than recreational programs are feeling the pinch of staff shortages. 

The Extended School Year program offered by Erie One BOCES had to significantly reduce its number of slots for special needs students to get extra schooling over the summer due to a lack of staff.

It was something that a Assistant Superintendent of Instructional Services Michael Capuana, in a statement to 2 On Your Side, described as "frustrating."

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