Welcoming back the joy (and benefits) of summer camp

By Marisol Valentin, Executive Director, McAuley Ministries

There is such incredible vibrancy happening in the afterschool space during the academic year, but the summer months are just as important. We must invest in our children throughout the year and summer holds so many valuable opportunities to do just that.

After the “lost summer” of 2020, families and providers alike were thrilled – and filled with trepidation – to return to in-person summer camps last year. It wasn’t long though until everyone was settled in and the squeals of joy took over. With one successful summer under our belts, we’re looking forward to another exciting season of growth, learning and fun.

One important thing that I’ve learned is that the collaboration that afterschool program providers bring to the education spectrum of our kids is vital. When organizations have a shared vision to better their community, amazing things can happen.

Through United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s Welcome Back Summer initiative, 29 community partners are hosting camps across the region to serve 4,000 children this year. That’s a sweeping number of young minds that will continue to question and explore the world around them. McAuley Ministries is proud to fund this work with Arconic Foundation, BNY Mellon Foundation, The Buhl Foundation, The Grable Foundation, The Heinz Endowments, Highmark Foundation, Mary Hillman Jennings Foundation, McElhattan Foundation and The Pittsburgh Foundation.

While much is often said about the educational benefits of summer camp, we sometimes forget the importance of play in learning. That’s one of the beauties of summer camp: you can continue to reinforce everything that a kid has learned through the school year but in a space that doesn’t look typically “academic.” There’s no homework, no (or little) being told to stay in your seat. Summer camp provides freedom and flexibility that kids respond to.

I’ve seen the light go on when a student realizes they can make their own game through coding or that baking the perfect cake comes down to math and measurements. Summer camp allows kids to explore learning differently. There is magic in every summer camp and there is a summer camp for everyone, regardless of geography or ability.

The social aspect is just as important as the academic. Being outside and developing friendships does wonders for a child’s mental health and well-being. It goes further than their ability to learn a new skill or experience and makes it so much easier for them to go back to school the next year.

Welcome Back Summer is a shining example of United Way’s mission to help everyone in our community build for success in school and life by strengthening academics, creating important social-emotional learning for children and ensuring childcare for working families. Through our partnership and McAuley Ministries’ commitment to working collaboratively to promote healthy, safe and thriving communities