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Some summer camps in Manitoba lose funding, feel ‘panicked’ as spring fades

Late last week, a handful of summer camps in Manitoba learned they would not be as financially sound as they anticipated this season.

Those like Michael Pahl, executive minister of Mennonite Church Manitoba responsible for Camp Assiniboia, found out they wouldn’t be receiving any funding from the Manitoba Government through its Urban and Hometown Green Team Program. The program is a grant initiative helping organizations, like Pahl’s, pay for help.

“It was quite a shock,” he said. “We’re relying on that, like a lot of other camps, to supplement our wages for our summer staff.”

Kim Scherger, executive director of the Manitoba Camping Association (MCA), said eight accredited camps have reported being completely denied that funding — usually receiving $30,000 to $90,000 per organization.

11 others told the MCA they’ve received about a third to half of what they’re accustomed to.

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“They were panicked, they were worried, they were scared. Their gut reaction was, ‘How are we going to survive not having the money and the funding to pay for our staff,” Scherger said.

Camp Assiniboia said the green team funding helped pay staff Manitoba’s minimum wage. Now they can’t afford that and worry about the staff they’ve already hired.

“Many of our staff are university students, and they’re looking not only for meaningful work through the summer working with kids, but they’re looking to save some money up for university in the fall. This is going to impact them the most directly,” Pahl said.

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Scherger added, “Some camps are saying that they’re still going to leave those positions open, but it’s going to become a small honorarium that they’ll get paid for working at camp. Their reaction is they think staff are going to say ‘No,’ and go out and scramble and find themselves a summer job.”

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Already, campers are registered for programming and many staff hired, she said, forcing camps without funding to a fork in the road. The options being to keep programs and take on debt, or make cuts.

“They don’t want those children to not have that experience at camp. They don’t want their staff to not come and work at camp,” she said.

While Pahl and Scherger said the grant is clear that funding may be discontinued, the cutbacks still feel like a surprise. Especially “When you have a number of camps across the province that have received it regularly,” Pahl said.

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“We don’t know the reasons for this. We don’t know what the process was, (or) the rationale” he said.

Scherger said, “Why weren’t they given a little bit of a heads up?”

On Tuesday, Minister of Municipal and Northern Relations, Ian Bushie, did not give clear indication as to why some camps did not get the funding they would typically receive.

“Pre-pandemic levels were increasing the green team funding by almost 40 per cent, so that’s something we’re proud of,” he said.

Bushie did note an increase in applications for the grant.

“We had a record intake of over 800 applications. So, we’re able to fund over 500 projects,” he said.

The minister said he is scheduled to meet with the Scherger in the coming days to talk about how to keep programs, like those offered at Camp Assiniboia, running.

“Rest assured, there’ll be no camps closing this year,” he said.

“That’s very nice to hear,” Scherger said in response, adding that she and Bushie spoke on Monday and felt encouraged by that initial conversation. “He did mention to me… that they don’t want camps to close. They don’t want camps to suffer.”

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Scherger hopes to re-evaluate with the minister what the green team grant process looks like.

“Can that application process start earlier in the year?” she said, explaining many camps hire their staff by the end of February or early March.

In the meantime, those like Pahl say they’ll still try to make things work while they wait for more clarity.

“We’ll just have to find a way to make things work for this summer,” Pahl said.

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‘Scary’: Parents reeling as child-care in Manitoba remains inaccessible

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