AMHERST, N.Y. — Demand is so high for summer camp spots in Western New York that some parents lined up at the Northtown Center before 4 o'clock in the morning on Monday to try to get a slot.
Registration didn't even start until 9 a.m.
There are about three-hundred open spots for this summer's Amherst Youth & Recreation program. The day camps start as soon as the school year ends.
"We have about three-hundred spots available every week for eight weeks. Unfortunately, the demand is much greater than that. We probably have five-hundred folks who want those three-hundred spots," says Mary-Diana Pouli, Executive Director, of Amherst Youth & Recreation Department.
The Amherst Youth & Recreation Department's summer camps are so popular, they had parents lining up hours before the doors opened Monday morning for registration. Some families trying to sign up online also ran into issues.
"We do charge less than the private sector, but we only accept Amherst residents, and so as an Amherst taxpayer, you know, you need to get some value for your taxes. So that's why our cost is less, but I will tell you there are certainly parents who struggle to meet the cost that we charge," said Mary-Diana Pouli.
Amherst charges $165 a week for the five-day-a-week elementary camps, which are full as of Monday morning. They do have a few spots left in the middle school camps.
And with COVID restrictions lifted this year, Amherst was able to open up five more spots per camp.
"We went back up to our full capacity, but the reality is that you know, quality, affordable childcare is a real issue for parents not just in the Town of Amherst, but throughout Western New York and throughout New York State. And until everybody can add more available programs, we're always going to have this problem," said Mary-Diana Pouli.
"The spots we have available are at our Delaware and William-Emslie branches, our Camp Tahigwa, which is out in Corfu, New York, but the kids are bused out there from our Independent Health Branch," said Brenna Lupo, Vice President of Education & Childcare Services, YMCA Buffalo Niagara.
Those are just some of the YMCA camps that still have openings for this summer. The YMCA has access for all, offering parents up to 50% off camp costs based on their income and family size.
This year, the YMCA is seeing the highest demand for summer camp since 2019.
"As far as the camps that are sold out right now, they are, you know, employment or staffing-based, so if we're able to recruit, you know, a ton more staff then we can open up more spots," said Brenna Lupo.
Amherst does not have a waiting list. Pouli suggests you check the website daily because some people cancel and some people don't pay by the deadline, which opens up spots. If Amherst is able to hire more staff at a job fair on March 25, Pouli might be able to open up more spots. But she says your best bet is to keep checking the website because that is where the openings are posted.