Who I am

Who I am, and Why I’m Looking for the Best Summer Camp Ideas in the World

DSCN0949My names is James Davis, and summer camp changed my life. A long time ago, some very special people a lot like you decided to create a space apart in the world for kids like I was. Kids who didn’t totally jive with how the rest of society seemed to be. Kids who needed a safe place to grow into their best selves. Kids like you were, too, I imagine.

I went to a magical place called Camp Johnsonburg, ultimately becoming a counselor, and then a unit coordinator, and then the summer program director. And then I made a really weird decision. I decided I wanted to “grow up.”

Well, growing up for me wasn’t the same as for some. I played poker professionally for seven years, served on Camp Johnsonburg’s board of trustees, started an online business, dabbled in real estate and business investment… and then I became a dad.

When I became a dad, everything (everything) changed. My wife, also a summer camp person, was teaching at the time, and she brought home a very interesting video from a continuing education course at the elementary school where she taught. It was Ken Robinson’s incredible animated video called Changing Education Paradigms. It blew my mind. This man was pointing to what summer camp people have known forever. That kids need to be woken up, not put to sleep.

family pictureSo we went digging for the right educational opportunity for our kids. The one that honored them as full people, capable of anything they wanted to accomplish, if they put their mind to it. We had a lot of trouble finding it. How were schools ignoring what camp’s had known forever? How could they get away with it? Why was the current movement in education toward standardization, sterilization, and conformity, instead of individual expression?

But wait! There was an educational opportunity like this. It just happened during summer time.

That year, as we lay under the Christmas Tree with our darling son Oliver nestled between us, we reflected on the year. We had accomplished so much, and brought the most darling person we could imagine into the world. We had a nice house 3 blocks from my parents, stable finances, and few worries. But this educational problem was nagging at us. How could we sit around and complain, without doing anything about it? And if no schools were ready to listen to these “new” ideas, who would?

A… summer camp?

We went online and looked at a few job listings. There were a couple of promising ones nearby to us in New Jersey, but one opportunity really stood out. A small summer camp called The Vanderkamp Center, located nearly 6 hours away, was hiring a new director. I emailed a resume, and we set up a phone interview. The board was a group that was ready to try something new – excited to hear what was both a fresh and traditional view on summer camping. Our pitch was simple – what if we brought sound business practices, modern child development theory, and a new take on programming to summer camp, and helped kids learn to use freedom wisely while pursuing what they were passionate about?

Well, the board was sold. And so were we. I left for Vanderkamp two months later, my wife left her job after the school year, and we sold our house to move six hours away from anyone we knew.

It was then that Summer Camp Revolution was born – though we didn’t know it at the time. What we found was that most people aren’t building new summer camps. They’re largely closing them down. And to our mind, most of that distress was unnecessary.

With a business makeover, a new approach to managing the camp’s online presence, a modern marketing plan, a discarding of the traditional rules, and an infusion of some fresh programming ideas, we saw the following results:

An increase in summer camper weeks from 207 to 418 from 2011 to 2013.
An increase in retreat revenues of 66 percent in that same time frame.
A staggering increase in donor engagement.
A retention of 86% of our eligible campers from 2011 to 2012.
A summer camp that was nearly free from bullying and teasing.
A community of supporters who finally had what they were looking for – a camp that they didn’t need to worry about.

And we’re in a metropolitan area that is one of 15 that had a decrease in population over the last 3 years. An economy that’s been in recession for decades due to big businesses leaving empty husks of factories behind as they moved to outsource jobs overseas.

Others took notice, too. We were asked to speak at the Next church conference about our innovative ways to work with youth.
I presented a workshop on Search Engine Optimization at the ACA Tristate conference in Atlantic City. The folks at Camping Coast to Coast not only wrote us a fantastic review, they decided they wanted to work with us in the summer of 2014 as a part of our leadership team!

But our successes at Vanderkamp are not what this site is about. We’re here to start something new. A Summer Camp Revolution.

You see – summer camps, even “non-profits,” don’t have to struggle. We have proven business techniques that make it possible for any summer camp to get “into the black” a heck of a lot sooner than you might think. We have marketing strategies that will help you compete with those other summer options that have become the bane of traditional summer camps everywhere. We have step by step guides to creating the best and most effective web site possible. We have summer camp activities that can fit seamlessly into any summer camp, traditional or otherwise. We have easily implementable ideas about creating the healthiest and most fun summer camp culture possible.

And we have people who really, really care about summer camps at large taking back the summer time.

If you’ve read this far, I’m 99.99999999% sure you agree with me that summer camp is by far the best way a child can spend a week during the summer. And if you believe that, don’t you owe it to those kids in your area to outcompete those other options that they have? To implement rather easy techniques for everything from purchasing supplies, to implementing innovative program, to marketing, to redesigning your camp’s website? What would you be willing to do to ensure that all the kids in your area who might come to camp, do so?

If your answer is, “anything,” you’re in the right place.

The summer camp revolution starts with your camp. It starts before this summer. It starts today.

And it won’t be easy. While we weren’t looking, people invented video games, and facebook, and horrifying year round schools. But it’s cool. We’ve got this. Summer camp is still the best way for a kid to spend his or her time, and parents still love their kids. We’ll take back the summer together, and who knows? Maybe we’ll wind up teaching those schools a thing or two in the process.

So let’s work together. Let’s grow your camp, and make sure it reaches as many children as possible. And let’s take back the summer time.