Name a child who doesn’t look forward to a summer break from nine straight months of school? Parents, on the other hand, not so much. 

For moms, and it’s usually moms, the search to find ways for kids to spend their summers begins almost right after (a much shorter) winter holiday break. It takes sharp investigative skills, patience and a checkbook. In today’s academically and socially competitive high-stakes educational world, parents send their kids “to camp.”

But these aren’t some rustic, bunk bed outfitted, spider-laden places in the woods. Today’s camps involve tinkering and coding and urban adventures: the kind of learning that doesn’t always fit into a conventional school year.

Parents’ circumstances are a big determinant of camp options that, in the Oak Park-River Forest area, can range from just under $100 per week for basic camps to nearly $1,000 per week for immersive STEM-type camps.

In 2014, according to The New York Times, parents reported that they would probably spend an average of $958 per child on summer expenses.

“It’s expensive,” says Carrie Summy, a River Forest mother of four who range in age from 7 to 14. Summy says she spends lots of time “collating information and sitting with lots of paper” that she prints out about “all the organizations I know exist.” 

Although Summy explores cheaper options, final choices come down to ones that match schedules and still getting to her job in a timely manner. The running around in previous years “was insane,” getting from one park district location to the next. Luckily, she works in downtown Oak Park. And as her children get older, the scramble has gotten easier, she admits.

Last year, was “very piecemeal, a park district thing here, a sleep away YMCA camp in Wisconsin. You’re just kind of building blocks of time over the summer, a little family vacation, time at a camp. And there’s the day camp stuff to cover because I’ve got to actually work.”

And the cost? “I don’t want to admit how much I spend…thousands of dollars,” says Summy. “A week of camp is $150 to $300.” 

This summer, Summy plans to stick “pretty much with the River Forest Park District,” which has a general day camp, “nothing super elaborate.” But she’s glad it’s an option where her kids “will know all their friends and they’re outside for the day.”

Oak Park resident Juanta Griffin, also a mother of four, ages 6 to 18, knows well the juggling act and the cost of summer activity options. As a part-time employee at Oak Park’s Hephzibah Children’s Association who is also finishing a degree at Concordia University Chicago, Griffin has explored multiple options, but defaults to Hephzibah because it’s more affordable.

“For the summer, my kids go to Hephzibah,” she says. As a Hephzibah staff member she will pay a nominal amount for tuition.

Griffin’s older son used to attend a sports camp, but she and her husband couldn’t maintain it. “It was expensive,” hundreds of dollars that the family could not spare as they work to keep up with the other costs that come with living in Oak Park. 

Griffin looks for summer scholarships, but for son in special education classes, those are hard to find, she says. “You have to be severely delayed. There’s nothing for people who are kind of in the middle. Or you have to be really good at sports or instruments. What about kids who just want to be kids?”

Hephzibah does a good job of providing summer experiences for those kids but only until 6th grade, Griffin says. 

“When you ask what I’m doing for the summer, I don’t know,” says Griffin. “I’m going to try to make it work.” 

For lots of families, out-of-school plans will always be a patchwork as parents must juggle their every option. “I also have a mom who helps out, the support of people of around me who help,” says Summy. “We do make it work. I know there’s plenty of people in community who don’t have that support.”

Side bar 1: BASE Camp increases its scholarships

Side bar 2: From basic to high tech

Action Item: Scholarships

• Families looking for scholarships to attend the BASE Camp program are invited to join a waiting list in the event an opening occurs. Learn more at

$75,000 in BASE Camp scholarships have been awarded so far this year. That covers 119 children.

• Scholarship amounts ranged from $300 to $1,000 per child.

• Scholarships for summer programs from the Park District of Oak Park are on the rise. In 2017, $65,300 in scholarships were redeemed. That’s up from $30,700 the previous year. Learn more at

The YES Fund is another effort to fund scholarships for local youth looking for enrichment. Almost 60 students earned $20,000 in need-based scholarships in 2017. Scholarships are offered year-round. Find out more at

OP-RF Summer Camp Options

Hephzibah: Summer Hephzibah


Oak Park Education Foundation (OPEF): BASE Camp

Oak Park Park District

River Forest Park District

West Cook YMCA

River Forest Community Center

CAST: Summer Arts Institute

CAST: Youth Arts Institute

Bravo: Frozen or Freaky Friday, Jr.

Jr. Bravo: Jungle Books, Kids

Code Play Learn: Sports & Coding Camp

Oak Park Art League: Gallery + S.T.U.D.I.O.

Heph Ed

Incredicamp: Goop 3D Adventure

Incredicamp: Sparks Quadcopter Adventure

The Viola Project

Magical Minds: Harry Potter, Fashion & Trends, Pre-K

School of Rock

Dominican University: Summer Gifted and Talented Program

Steve and Kate’s Camp

Oak Park Friends School

Alcuin Montessori: Camp Alcuin

Camp Galileo: Innovation Camps for Kids

St. Luke: Summer Camp

SAY Connect is sponsored by the Good Heart Work Smart Foundation in partnership with Success for All Youth (SAY).

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