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Camperships Offer Summer Escape

Human Services Director Barbara Butler will be able to help Westport's less fortunate youths have a better summer. The Board of Selectmen voted last night to allow her department to accept donations, or "camperships," to help send kids to camps.

"It gives the kids a good summer experience and allows the parents to keep working," said Butler. She estimates $103,696 worth of camp programs have been donated to the town since 2008. Last year, 94 families and 139 individual youth were awarded camperships.

Butler said one of the biggest supporters of the program is the YMCA. The Westport Weston Family Y alone donated a total of 137 weeks of time at Camp Mahackeno over the past two years. The estimated value of the donation time used is $61,510. Six other YMCA camps participate as well and offer overnight excursions for the children.

Parents make a small payment to help with the cost of sending their kids to a camp, but far less than if they were paying for it entirely themselves. Then Butler's department allocates donated funds and camper openings. She doesn't have a complete list yet of how many slots are being offered and at what camps.

The campership program is part of a larger set of services aimed at helping children and teens while easing the burden on struggling families. For example, Butler's office also helps those in need with graduation outfits and prom clothing. "It is a small program but very tangible," said Butler, "It's one of those things that, for something like the prom or graduation, a suit could be a couple of hundred dollars."

Maintaining the camp program was something Butler called "critically important" for allowing the children to get out and enjoy their summer without affecting family stability. Over the past few years, she said the necessity for all manner of family help and support has been on the rise. "People don't think pf a town like Westport as having people in need of some form of assistance," said Butler

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