Consulting to summer camps isnít
just a summer job
With camping season behind
us, you might think the action in this area is over until next summer.
But as the three clinicians we speak to below explain, this isnít
necessarily a summer job at all. Camp directors are working on
camp business year-round, and autumn is the time for consultants to
begin marketing to them.
There are 12,000 summer camps
and day camps in the United States, with 11 million children attending
each year. Camp directors deal continually with mental health-related
issues--including homesickness, bullying, and staff burnout. It
shouldnít be surprising, then, that therapists are exploring the
niche market possibilities.
Pre-camp therapy for kids and families: Hanna Fogel, a
Brookline, MA, therapist works with families who are uneasy about an
upcoming camp experience. She explains: "People are investing a
lot of time today--not just in finding the right camp for their child,
but in making sure itís a successful experience...Parents have two
main concerns. One is their childís safety. The other is that their
child has emotional peace, and can enjoy camp in a relaxed way."
The second issue is the meat
and potatoes of Fogelís camp-related work. "I deal with the
emotional piece of it." Parents often push their kids into
certain kinds of camps that may advance them academically or
socially, and Fogel tries to help take some of the pressure off.
"When I talk to parents,
I give them a short list--things they can do to ease the adjustment of
the child to the camp. The little things to send with them, writing
letters, things like that. Two or three sessions generally does the
trick." She usually sees the parents and child separately,
and then together as a family. The kids are likely to be
preadolescent--11, 12 or 13.
During the pre-camp
season--usually early spring through early summer--up to 15% of Fogelís
practice is camp-oriented. This tends to be paid in cash--$130 per
session. Insurance wonít pay for "pre-camp woes," of
course, but she will take insurance when thereís a legitimate
"Sometimes a parent may
say, ĎI want to bring my child in because heís been acting a
certain way over the last couple of weeks and I have no clue what itís
about.í Then if summer camp issues happen to come up, thatís part
of the process." For the year as a whole, Fogel averages 25 to 30
sessions a week, about half of which is paid out-of-pocket.
As far as marketing goes,
Fogel stays in touch with school counselors and school psychologists.
"I get a lot of referrals through them." She also gets some
attention from the writing sheís done about camp issues. (See an
example here: www.maineartscamp.com/pdf/summercamparticle.pdf.)
Staff training: Christopher Thurber is a school psychologist at
Phillips Exeter Academy, the elite prep school in Exeter, NH. Early in
his career he conducted research on homesickness and other topics of
interest both to boarding schools and summer camps. It wasnít long
before he was giving presentations at conferences set up by the
American Camp Association (ACA).
"When I presented at
these conferences, camp directors would come up and say, ĎWow, that
was great. Can you come and train our staff?í Now Iíve
worked directly with more than a hundred camps."
That keeps Thurber busy from
Memorial Day through the Fourth of July. He does about four workshops
per day on various topics, at $2,000 per day.
He precedes each session with
a long chat with the camp director to find out what the campís
specific needs are.
"Thereís a lot that
they have to accomplish in their staff training week," he
explains. "Everything from CPR to aspects of child development
and leadership--and those last two are my specialities."
workshop topics are:
1) helping campers cope with separation and homesickness; 2)
helping camp counselors--who are typically aged 17 to 25--adjust their
leadership styles; 3) how to promote good communication with
kids at different ages; 4) the difference between safe and
In addition to occasional
speaking engagements for the Camp Association, Thurber promotes his
training specialty with articles written for Camping Magazine,
the trade publication for camp directors. "That way I share some
of myself and what I do. Itís not like an ad--but it includes a
little paragraph saying that I do staff trainings."
He also wrote a book called The
Summercamp Handbook, aimed at helping parents select a camp. And
he collaborated with the Camp Association on a DVD/CD set called
"The Secret Ingredients for Summer Camp Success." He
explains, "This is something camp directors buy to give to new
Word of mouth and his website
do the rest:
"One camp director may hear about me from another camp director,
then go looking for me online. Heíll call and say, ĎOh, I heard
youíre going to be in Maine in June, so I was wondering if you could
do a day at our camp.í"
Who can do camp trainings?
Anyone with a background in child development, or experience working
with kids in school, camp, or clinical practice. Itís also important
to know something about camps and how they work, Thurber adds.
A lively presentation style
"Consultants are not invited back or referred to if their style
is bland. Youíve got to keep it interesting." For example, he
uses lots of audio-visual material and role playing. "I try to
stay away from lectures as much as I can."
1) Hanna Fogel, Brookline, MA, email: fogel@ gmail.com; 2)
Christopher Thurber, Exeter, NH, www.campspirit.com.