The strong Manoa wind was blowing the rain sideways. 

But the weather wasn’t a deterrent to the nearly 200 parents and children who cozied up under blankets, and camped out on beach chairs and in tents on the sidewalks to land a coveted spot at the Manoa Valley District Park’s Summer Fun program.

Some arrived at the park 24 hours before registration began on May 13 at 9 a.m.

People arrive after 5am to see a formed line of tents and umbrellas at 5am saturday after staying over on beach chairs under tents in lines waiting to register their kids into summer fun programs at Manoa Recreation Center. 13 may 2017
The Manoa Summer Fun program is one of the largest with 350 openings for kids. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

This year was Jim Hayes’ fourth or fifth year camping out. He’s lost count. This year, he was in charge of grilling chicken on a hibachi to feed his and other families who come to camp out every year.

“It’s actually kind of fun,” he said. “You get to spend the evening together outside.”

The lure for many families is the bargain price. The city subsidized-program costs between $5 and $17 per week. Needy families are eligible to have a $25 registration fee waived. At some parks, families pay as little as little as $20 for the program.

Most summer programs on Oahu can cost hundreds more than Summer Fun. Programs at pricey private schools, like Punahou, can be thousands more.

About 10,000 kids across 62 sites are expected to participate in Summer Fun this year, parks department spokesman Nathan Serota wrote in an email.

“It’s super important to a lot of middle-class families,” said Noelani Lopez, a parent who lives in Enchanted Lake.  “It’s tough in Hawaii. Even with two parents working full time, it’s still hard to make ends meet. So programs like this, I don’t know what we’d do without it.”

Parents pay up to $100 for the six-week program, which runs weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and is operated by the city’s parks and recreation department. The cost varies depending on field trip options available at certain program sites.

Mouse over the dots below to see what services are offered at Summer Fun sites near you. Sites undergoing construction during summer are highlighted in red.

Source: Honolulu Parks and Recreation Department

Directors at each park choose where kids go on field trips. This summer, some Summer Fun groups will see the dolphins at Sea Life Park, watch movies at local theaters or swim at beaches around the island.

Lopez enrolled her two children in Enchanted Lake Community Park’s program, as she has done every year since they were first eligible at age 5.

Her 8-year-old daughter will play sports, make crafts, and go on field trips with other elementary school-aged children under the supervision of their group leader, a parks department employee.

Now that Lopez’s 12-year-old son is in middle school, he will join the Junior Leader program for   middle school and high school students. They help out with the children in exchange for participating in field trips and other activities for teenagers.

If her kids stayed home with their grandparents, Lopez said, they’d probably end up sitting in front of the TV for hours.

People arrive after 5am to see a formed line of tents and umbrellas at 5am saturday after staying over on beach chairs under tents in lines waiting to register their kids into summer fun programs at Manoa Recreation Center. 13 may 2017
People arrive at the Manoa Valley District Park around 5 a.m., where families were camping out overnight to get a slot for their children in the Summer Fun program. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The concept of Summer Fun grew out of a World War II era effort to get kids involved in their community, said Serota.

He said the city first began using schools and playgrounds for summer activities in 1944. The number of program sites have more than doubled since then, Serota said, and about 550 employees help oversee activities.

Over the years, the program evolved to become more structured and similar to a school-day routine, he said.

After budget restraints and a decline in registration during the 1990s, Serota said the City Council approved a shorter program schedule and the $25 registration fee that’s still used today.

Serota said the cost of excursions and activities are covered by Summer Fun fees. He said the department did not have an estimate of what the city pays to operate Summer Fun.

Many Summer Fun employees are college students home on break, making $11 to $12 per hour to help care for kids and oversee program activities.

The low fees are a big draw on Oahu. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture ranked Honolulu as the second most expensive place to raise a child.

More than half of Summer Fun sites provide a free three-item brunch for those under 18, saving parents even more money. Based on school meal figures provided by the Hawaii Department of Education, parents could save another $70 on meals throughout the course of the program.

“This is one of the last really affordable summer programs for Oahu families,” Jane Taafaki said as she waited in line at Manoa Valley District Park. “To be able to pay $100 for a six-week program is not only a tremendous bargain, but the line will show you just how desperate families are for affordable summer programs.”

Hawaii families with two children had a median income of almost $78,000 in 2015, according to U.S. Census data. A fact sheet published last year by Child Care Aware, an advocacy group, found parents of school-aged children in Hawaii spend $7,700 annually on child care.

Based on those numbers, families in Hawaii with two kids could spend 20 percent of their income on child care. The numbers also show the Summer Fun program could save those families at least $146 per week.

Summer fun registration sign at Manoa Recreation Center early 5am. 13 may 2017
Families camp out before Summer Fun registration begins in order to secure a spot for their children. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Only the Nanakuli Boys and Girls Club summer program, where participants pay a maximum of $150, is comparable in price. Other popular summer youth programs through the Honolulu Zoo, YMCA of Honolulu, and Kama’aina Kids cost $100 per week or more.

Parents pay an average of about $500 for each two-hour summer class at Oahu’s private schools, including Punahou, Iolani and Le Jardin. Public school summer school costs up to $190 per course.

“It’s really hard to find something reasonably priced,” said Waimanalo resident Dianna Bowman. Once a Summer Fun participant, Bowman now enrolls her daughters in the program.

Many Summer Fun sites still have openings. Find locations and contact information for parks around the island at the Summer Fun website, or contact your local park.

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