Community Exchange Programs

By Stuart MacKenzie

If you ask some of our campers how they earned their spot at camp this year, they might say they tried their best to “be good” during the year.


Eleven-year-old Taylor Bowling would say, “I prepared and served three needy families Thanksgiving dinner.” She also might mention cooking and serving breakfast at the Ronald McDonald House in Cincinnati’s Children’s Hospital.

Community Exchange Program
Bowling, a camper at YMCA Camp Ernst participated in our Community Exchange program. The program is designed to help out middle-class campers who do not meet the financial qualifications of our need-based scholarship program but who need some extra help coming up with our $475 resident summer camp fee.

“The idea came from all the stories we heard from our campers who had saved their babysitting or paper route money to help pay for their week of camp,” said Jon Perry, camp director. “We wanted to teach our campers the value of volunteering in the community and at the same time help them earn money for their week at camp.”

How It Works At Camp Ernst
This year, just over 200 Camp Ernst campers raised the equivalent of $6,375 in credits towards their camp fee. Here’s how the program works:

For each hour a Camp Ernst camper volunteers, we deduct $5 from their camp fee (up to a maximum of $100 per camper). Last year, the average camper earned $25 worth of credits. Some campers raised the $100 maximum.

Campers were allowed to volunteer anywhere they wanted in the community as long as they had a supervisor who could sign their form verifying their presence. Most of the campers helped out at their school, church, library or with an elderly neighbor. Once they finished their hours, they sent in the signed forms with the hours they worked and the earned amount was deducted from their camp fee. It’s that simple.

At the conclusion of the program, 47 campers who were not eligible for need-based financial aid volunteered in the community and raised $2,800 (collectively) in discounts towards their camp fee. Of the 160 campers who attended on a needs-based scholarship, just over 140 volunteered their time and earned $3,575 (collectively) in camp tuition credits.

Covering The Camp Credits
Like all scholarship programs, need-based or otherwise, at the end of the day somebody has to pay for the shortfall in revenue. The folks at Camp Ernst found money in their marketing and annual support budget to pay for the program and are betting the positive buzz generated by the program will help build enrollment and increase retention in the coming years. After all, one good deed deserves another.

Stuart MacKenzie is a Program Coordinator at YMCA Camp Ernst. He has been on Camp Ernst’s summer staff since 1999. He can be reached via e-mail at