Kelsey Brown, 18, fruitlessly looked for a job the past two summers.
This year, her dad helped her land a part-time position at a Washington Township, Gloucester County, pool installation company, and her basketball coach at Richard Stockton College brought her on to help operate the school’s girls summer basketball camp.
“It’s a good way to help with some of the girls,” Brown said of the camp. “When they grow up, they might remember us and want to come back.”
While statistics show younger adults are experiencing double-digit unemployment, a new report says summer camps are a growing, crucial employer for them.
At the same time, the report, by the Maine-based research firm Planning Decisions Inc., found summer camps for children have a $590 million impact on New Jersey’s economy.
Camps are worth $3.2 billion to the broader Northeast, a figure that grows to $8.1 billion if one counts indirect economic benefits.
The report found New Jersey has 1,010 day and overnight summer camps that employ 27,400 seasonal and 1,600 full-time employees.
And while wages across the state fell by about 1 percent between 2007 and 2010, they rose 6 percent in the state’s youth camping industry.
“The youth camping industry in the Northeast stands out as a rare example of economic strength during the Great Recession over the past several years,” the firm wrote in its report.
The report, commissioned by the American Camp Association, Northeast Region, found that younger workers ages 16 to 24 held many of the jobs. Nationally, 16- to 24-year-olds had a 16.1 percent unemployment rate as of May, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. By comparison, people 25 and older had a 6.9 percent unemployment rate.
Nationally, the bureau said that recreation workers, which is how it characterizes camp counselors, earn about $10.70 per hour, or $22,260 a year. The job typically requires a bachelor’s degree.
The state Department of Health and Senior Services lists 36 separate day and overnight camps in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and southern Ocean counties.
Earlier this month, Joe Fussner, Stockton’s girls basketball coach, watched 28 elementary school-age girls practice dribbling at Stockton’s main athletic building.
“I think what parents are looking for is a safe place,” Fussner said.
Soon, he lined the children up and began drills: weaving the ball through their legs for coordination, hop-scotching for dexterity and sprinting for speed.
Hannah Watson, 6, of Absecon, said she likes the camp “because I like to play basketball.”
The school has offered summer camps for more than 20 years in a variety of sports, including basketball, volleyball and soccer, Fussner said. Stockton also hosts a “CSI” camp, in which campers investigate a murder, find the culprits and bring them to justice through a mock trial.
“For us, summer camps are a very important part of what we do,” said Lonnie Folks, the school’s athletic director. “This here for us is a great help for our program because we use it as a fundraiser.”
Costs run between $150 to $300 for the day camps and $450 to $600 for the overnight camps.
Hundreds of people are enrolled for the camps, some of which use the dorms. The boys basketball camp is a big draw, with guest appearances by top players such as LeBron James, who spoke at the camp last year.
“As the kids are doing star-gazing, they are learning more about the game, so we like that,” Folks said.
One of the larger camps in the area is Galloway Township’s summer camp, which sees 60 to 70 kids a week for the full-day programs.
Beth Stasuc, a municipal deputy public works director who oversees the 20-year-old program, said, “It just continually grew from 25 to what we have today.”
The camp is open to kindergartners to those entering sixth grade and operates from late June to late August, costing about $200 a week.
Stasuc, 58, of Galloway, is well aware of the camp’s economic impact. The camp uses local venues and vendors, she said, including food from Primo Pizza in Egg Harbor Township, buses from Galloway’s Integrity Transportation, vans from Just4Wheels, which has a location in Galloway, and art supplies from Galloway’s Towne Paint.
Additionally, she said, they take trips to Lake Absegami in Bass River Township, Young’s Skating Center in Mays Landing and Strike Zone Lanes in Egg Harbor City.
John White, the 25-year-old camp director, said the camp hires about 10 junior counselors and counselors every year, typically kids who went to camp there and volunteered as teenagers.
“It makes my job easier,” White said. “I don’t have to find anyone or train anyone. ... It just makes things run a lot smoother because you know what to expect.”
White knows firsthand the difficulties of employment. A 2010 Rowan University graduate with an education degree, he has worked the past six summers as the camp director after four summers as a lifeguard and 10 summers as a camper.
But the first several jobs he applied to fell through, and it was only later that he landed his current position, teaching in Ventnor.
At the Nature Center of Cape May, summer camps account for “a huge part of our general operating budget,” Sanctuary Director Gretchen Whitman said.
Whitman, 49, of Cape May, said the facility operates year-round, but 80 percent of its funds come in the summer, with about $35,000 — a sizable chunk — coming from its eight-week summer camp.
With four permanent staff, Whitman said the center hires four to eight area school teachers otherwise off for the summer. The center also hires about 20 older children as “teen leaders,” typically high-achieving high schoolers.
The camp, which starts next week, offers weekday-morning programs to visitors and residents between preschool and high school for $15 to $20 per day.
On any day, Whitman said 80 to 100 kids are at the center, learning and playing in nature. Over a summer that amounts to about 500 separate children that Whitman said two years ago came from 17 states and five countries.
“Basically we are a nature camp,” Whitman said.
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