Camps and Prices Including VBS

Updated on March 21, 2015
S.H. asks from Santa Barbara, CA
22 answers

There are several camp options in our area and the price ranges are extreme. Some are free (VBS) and some VBS are over $125 for half day (9-12) week. Both have free volunteers (i've worked both and know what happens throughout the day) and the snacks are not expensive (gold fish to generic fruit loops in a small dixie milk).

I get when there are some camps with a real skilled leader (soccer star to math pro) and the number of kids per adult. Some talent needs to charge a lot of money, so that is up to the parent to decide if they value the camp and the curriculum.

I really want to ask where the VBS's money is going. They have around 500 kids (so it is super crowded), so that is close to $50,000 minus the gold fish and fruit loops. The decorations were also reused from a neighboring church (so I'm guessing the go in together for the props such as balloons and such). It seems like a lot of money and no explanation as to what it is being used for and now I'm curious. Do people paying have a right to know? I am assuming it goes to the church in some way, but it seem like they should be more forthcoming as to how it is allocated.

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answers from Los Angeles on

I've never heard of a VBS costing more than $50, and most are way less than that. Paying $125 sounds crazy for VBS.

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answers from Detroit on

most vbs around here are 10-20 for the1/2 day..

there is a full day camp type vbs that charges a fair price of 180 for the week.. I assume it runs like a regular day care. I have heard it is great..

I do think if they are going to charge 180 for the week.. they might have to pay the staff... as is a full day..

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answers from Springfield on

Putting on VBS is actually quite expensive. It is so much more than decorations and a few Goldfish and Froot Loops. First, there's the materials purchased from the publishing company. These include books, DVD's, CD's, posters, etc. Many of the decorations are purchased from the publishing company. There are usually giveaways each day - a toy of some kind to help the kids remember the Bible verse or message of the day. Remember that the kids travel to 5 or 6 stations, and each of those stations needs materials. The arts and crafts station and the snack station are a little more obvious, but usually there is a story telling station, a Bible story station and sometimes another video or story station. These all require additional materials to bring the message to life. There's also usually a session where the kids just play games. Sometimes there are games that are directly related to the theme of the day, and other times the games are just fun games. Either way, supplies are usually needed.

Most churches just pay for VBS. It's part of their ministry, and it's included in their annual budget. The most I've ever paid for VBS is $10 or $20 per child, but many, many churches have no fee. In fact, it's usually the Catholic Church's that charge money, and I'm Catholic.

I've never heard of a church charging anywhere near what you are saying. My guess would be that this church doesn't have much money, but obviously I have no idea. But please know that they are not making money off this. The are not running a profit!

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answers from Portland on

I suggest VBS costs more than just providing snacks. The curriculum and supplies are expensive, the space itself costs money for heat/cooling and janitorial staff and cleaning supplies. They have to pay for insurance. All adults who spend time with children have to have a criminal background check. Since most of the staff are volunteers the church may pay those fees. It was $5 in Oregon 10 years ago.

Another reason for the charging a fee is that parents will use VBS for child care. I knew of parents who made a round of various VBS's for cheap child care.Because other child care facilities could not compete more and more parents used VBS for child care. The parents and children aren't so much interested in Christian education but in child care.

When I was young, VBS was mostly free because the kids came mostly from the church it's self. VBS was a ministry to their own children and an outreach to kids in their neighborhood. Most mom's stayed home so there was no need for child care. When parents outside the church and neighborhood began relying on VBS for child care churches began to focus on being a part of the child care community; hence the increasing tuition.
VBS became less about Christian outreach and more about providing a service.

Since you are questioning the fee, I suggest you talk to a church leader to know what their reason for tuition and their expectations for VBS.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

$125 is about the going rate for half day camps which equate to summer childcare for a lot of families. If they get 500 kids at the camp then it sounds like the market will bear it and is happy to pay $125 for a half day of childcare.

So to answer your question, do I think they need to give a full accounting of their revenues and expenses? No. I think you either lump it or leave it.

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answers from San Francisco on

Why do you need to ask where the $ is going? Just because it's a church? It's a ridiculously cheap and nice way for your kid to spend a whole week, I can't believe this would even be an issue. Churches are non profits with a ton of bills to pay, how about asking your hairdresser or auto mechanic where all THAT money goes?
Or maybe your doctor?
Or congressperson?

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answers from Pittsburgh on

Although many churches do VBS as an outreach program and subsidize the cost, it doesn't mean they have to. Maybe the church does it as a fundraiser - and if people are sending their kids basically instead of daycare and are willing to pay, so be it. Maybe they use any extra to help pay their electric bill. It doesn't really matter, does it? Either you think the activities are worth the cost, or you don't.

No, I don't think you have a right to know. Do you think you have a right to know what your hair stylist does with the money you pay for a haircut?

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answers from Portland on

If it's a church, they likely have to pay insurance on that space for this event.

My feeling is this-- if I trust a group and want to hire them for a camp for my child, what they do with their money is none of my business. Personally, I believe churches should pay taxes, period. It would be nice if the money were being reinvested in missions. Some programs have to pay for curriculum use and craft supplies, which can add up.

I would treat church camps like any other camp-- it is often run as a business. While they may have volunteers, they may also have to pay the people who coordinated admin, activities, and care. That isn't free. Insurance for this sort of thing, as I said, is a significant factor. I remember when I worked in day cares, long before I had my own preschool-- I figured they were raking the money in until I was hit with the reality of running that sort of business. It's not a lucrative one, that's for sure!

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answers from Los Angeles on

500 hundred kids? Wow. I don't think their are any churches that would hold 500 kids around here!

Our VBS is $85 a week, full days (9-4). We only have about 30 kids, but we have paid staff as well as volunteers. We pay for snacks, curriculum and craft supplies. We also have to hire cleaners to work every day and it is very expensive to run the air conditioning all summer. We use a lot of soap, toilet paper, paper towel and water. After all those expenses if there is anything left over it goes to the church, as it should.

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answers from Dallas on

The money is going to the church, and it sounds like you already know that. If you Think they are overcharging, don't go (500 kids, there's no way we would go).

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answers from St. Louis on

As someone who kept the books for our parish women's club for years, people suck at estimating numbers. Some are so bad that when I would show them the ledger they would say that can't be right.

There is no way it is 500 a week, if it is well then most of that money is going to insurance. I mention insurance because that one most miss when it comes to kids. Don't know your area, are there hardship cases who's kids may get to go free?

In the end the only way you would know is to speak to whoever keeps the books. I never had a problem explaining the numbers. You also need to figure that the revenue probably funds programs that are year round. These are not for profits and really I know that running just the non-church part of a parish is a lot more than people realize.

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answers from Dallas on

S., you said that you have worked at both of the VBS programs you mention - the free one and the one that charges $125. So as a former volunteer, perhaps you could ask the director where the expenses were going to. You could ask that they explain the fees because you feel uncomfortable paying so much or see if they offer scholarships (which may also add to the cost of running the program). If they have 500 kids, they probably have to have some paid staff because it might be difficult to get that many volunteers to sign up. Find out what activities are planned - renting inflatables is expensive and if they are doing something like that the expenses add up quickly. The curriculum usually needs to be purchased and it is a per person rate or a site license for several thousand dollars must be purchased. Some VBS programs supply a t-shirt for all campers and volunteers. Others might provide a CD of songs and verses that the kids learn all week. Some programs take up a voluntary donation to support a mission other places- perhaps they are adding some to the VBS fee to cover the donation.

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answers from Cleveland on

Our vbs..puts on a spectacular ending program...a free dinner to all families and admission to a zoo, or waterpark..something on that order..they get a bit of a discount because it's only 3 hrs..VA a full day admission but it quickly ads up.

for anyone that volunteers or contributes to these programs..thank you...I did for a while but had to stop because I just couldn't deal with the huge amount of special needs kiddos....I just don't have the training to handle them.

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answers from New York on

Not sure how your church operates, but some allow paid members access to the finances. Others llimit it to members of the board. Some to the whole congregation, and some to the public at large.

If you are curious, I would start by asking. If it is a real hang up for you, let their response guide whether you choose to enroll your child.

F. B.

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answers from Washington DC on

well, their profit margin would be of less interest to me than how the whole thing is run. i never sent my kids to a VBS, but lots of kids around here went, and none of our local ones were NEARLY that big nor that expensive.
my kids did most of their summer camps at the boys and girls club-run ones, which were very reasonable and pretty fun, or at sports camps like baseball or basketball were were considerably more expensive and lots and lots of fun.
if it's your church, and it's important to you, i'm sure they'd be happy to give you an overview of the books. if it's not your church, i don't think it would appropriate to ask.
cost aside, i'd have a hard time with that many kids at one camp, unless the facility is HUGE.

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answers from Las Vegas on

I really think that you may be underestimating some of the costs. For the past several years, I have held various positions (treasurer-two years, VP, now President) on our PTA board. So often, people do not realize the costs that are involved. We always try our best to conserve and spend the money wisely, but there are things like insurance and fees to state and national PTA that people forget about.

I've also served on the board of our temple (synagogue). There is so much done behind the scenes to help others or subsidize those who can't afford full tuition for religious school, preschool, camps, membership, etc. that people just don't think about that. Some of the costs for the activities and programs we offer go toward helping others. Perhaps this VBS is trying to generate some funds with the tuition so they can use those funds to help others.

Could be any number of things. Maybe the church charges a small fee for using the space (it has been done), and so that cost gets passed on to the consumers. I do know of some VBS where the director does get some small compensation for organizing all of the volunteers and activities. Maybe that is part of it. Think about it, how many people are willing to devote that many weeks to overseeing that many volunteers who are overseeing 500 kids for free?

Regarding the reuse of decorations: how often do you think these can be reused before they have to be replenished? With that many kids over that many weeks, I'm guessing quite a few have to be replaced.

Also are you saying that there are no handouts for songs, Bible lessons, coloring, or materials for arts and craft projects? Costs for supplying these things for 500 participants would certainly add up.

One example, when we do our membership drive. We have to make copies of the application form. For our school that means a few thousand sheets of paper when you take into consideration the nearly 1000 students and then all of the staff and extras we place in the office. Then there are the envelopes and the labels. What do you think it costs this VBS to print their application forms? The forms that list all of the participants' various medical needs like dietary restrictions, allergies, medications? Unless much of this is online, people forget how much paper and printing add up.

On one hand, I think anytime someone is handing over money, they have a right to know what they're getting in return, so if you really want to know, I don't think it hurts to ask. You might be surprised.

After seeing some of the other responses, I have to disagree with those who say you have no business knowing where these funds go. If the church is a registered non-profit, the books are subject to all of the scrutiny and oversight that goes along with being a non-profit. That's part of the deal.

Any board I've ever been part of gives a full accounting each month in terms of various budget and treasurer reports. These are not and cannot be secret documents. For any program, event, or activity, you see the incoming and outgoing funds.

If you are part of the church, you could go to a monthly meeting and look at the financial reports for yourself. That would tell you how much they are spending to run the program. If you want more specifics, I do not think it is out of line to ask as long as it is done in a respectful manner.

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answers from Rochester on

Our church charges about $25-$30 per kid for VBS. Four half days. The money is used for snacks, curriculum, craft supplies, and I think the custodial staff gets a bonus for the extra clean up needed. They also purchase a small thank you gift for the volunteers who help. They also buy refreshments for a short program they invite families to on the last night. I think some might also be used to fund scholarships for kids who can't afford to pay. $125 sounds like a lot to me. I think you could ask how the money is used.

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answers from New York on

Curious? Since when does any business entity have to let it's customer base know its profit margin? If you want to know ask. Don't make assumptions about how many kids, how many profits or anything. It costs to open the church up and keep the temperature indoors comfortable. You may have some volunteers and you also have some paid staff. 500 kids daily, I know how much of a mess my kids make I can't even begin to multiply that by hundreds. Ewww. The bathrooms and every space touched by kids need cleansing. Who does that and cleaning materials aren't free either. Long story short it may not be what you have assumed. There may be a large contingent of children that don't pay anything at all for the services. You don't know because you are not on the inside.

If you want to know ask. They may or may not tell you. If you have an issue with the price, then don't send your children.

My church does one week of VBS every evening from 5-8 Monday through Friday. We serve dinner, do crafts and the lesson. Have small groups and pull all the children together in a large group too. We have volunteers doing everything except we do use the church sextant for major cleanup. We have on average 150-200 children. It costs to feed them a nutritous meal and set up these exciting programs. We do it for free but at some point we may charge a small amout to help reduce the costs.

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answers from Los Angeles on

I'm not sure how clearly your question is stated. If I read what you are saying, its $125 per child for half day for 9-12 weeks? Thats dirt cheap. Do you mean its $125 per child for one week (5 half days)?

VBS is generally an outreach program. If its "free" its because the church funds it. If its cheap, its because the church subsidizes it. If its expensive, then yes, I'd ask questions.

My church is small, they have a small VBS budget, but a lot of people donate both time and money to make it good for the kids. I was not in leadership but knew where the money was going because I was told and I could see. I was given a $1.50/ per child/ per day budget for one days worth of crafts. Me and others purchased our own materials when we didn't want to work within that restriction.

I will speak for our small VBS (about 130 kids). The costly items are the rentals, from inflatable water slides to traveling farm animal petting zoos. Elaborate stage sets, the supply of snack foods and T-shirts to volunteer staff, and the cost of the copywritten program. I suppose really large facilities may even have some payed staff. Crafts can run from $1 to $5 per child/ per day. In any case, even with all the above items our small church manages to keep the cost at around $25 a kid for half day for 5 days.

The only reason I could ever imagine a VBS costing over $100 a kid is if the VBS is renting a facility or using a lot of fingerprinted/ paid child care workers or somehow the size and scope make them have to get special insurance or they use the profits to fund a different program.

Yes, I think its fair to ask. Its possible someone is running it for profit and not for outreach and if it were me, I'd want to know because that would be lame.

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answers from Washington DC on

I have only ever heard of paying for VBS one time. My kids love a local one at a church where we do not attend and it's free. VBS is an outreach program. My kids do go with $1 each per day for the offering, but that's the extent of the cost for us.

The one at the church where we were attending was $40 per kid. They went and hated we don't do our own anymore.

I assume the money goes in to the church and other outreach/missionary programs.

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answers from Washington DC on

For starters, I wouldn't have sent my kid to any VBS with 500 kids attending. That is WAY too huge for a VBS run by volunteers or even, for me, one run by professionals. Too crowded and I'd be worried my young child would be lost in the crowd, quite literally.

If this is your own church running this one that's so costly: You have every right to know the finances of your own congregation down to the last penny. So ask. Maybe this VBS is run as a fundraiser for the church -- there is nothing wrong with that, though the church should be open with everyone that the VBS is a church fundraiser. If this is not your own church, you still have a right to ask where the money goes though the church does not necessarily have to to tell you (though it would be good public relations on their part to do so).

Most VBSes are nowhere near that pricey though, yes, most charge something if only to cover food and craft materials, and sometimes to cover the cost of the store-bought curriculum-- many churches purchase their entire VBS as a ready-made package, from costumes for skits to lesson plans for the teachers to materials for the crafts. But these VBS packages are in the hundreds of dollars, not the thousands.

Five hundred kids times $125 per kid? That's not even $50,000 -- it's $65,200 and that's a lot of money to make on a VBS, especially a half-day, one-week-long one.

I would be wary of it, if only for its massive size. A week-long event corralling that many kids needs a LOT of adult supervision and I can't believe there would be enough parent and church volunteers to handle that many kids with safety in mind, unless maybe this church is a church with thousands of members--?

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answers from Washington DC on

Is it a camp or a VBS? I ask because in my mind, those are different things with different expectations. VBS, the last time I paid for one, was no more than $10 for the week for DD, and it was a couple of hours a night only. I figured it was more than fair and mostly volunteer. If the activities are more a camp, then $125 for a half day week is fair, IMO. That's around $8 an hour. There are few things you can do for $8/hr. The bottom line re: where does it go - not really your concern. Either you like the program and enroll the child or you decide it's sketchy or too $$ and don't. I imagine they likely need to pay for supplies, insurance, location and other things. Goldfish for 500 kids adds up. I didn't go to the preschool and ask them for their budget. I don't think they owe you any more than what they've already stated if it is not your church.

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