After transitioning into self-management of its summer camp program, Houston Racquet Club is moving forward with big plans for Camp FUEL.
In response to an influx of young member families in 2013, General Manager Thomas Preuml and the Board of the Houston (Texas) Racquet Club (HRC) made the decision to hire a Director of Youth Activities, creating a position that would focus entirely on catering to the club’s growing youth demographic.
|Getting Off the Ground
Summer camps can be a full-time business—keeping kids entertained and active all day, while incorporating educational elements, takes extensive planning. A leader in the summer camp industry provided the following tips for clubs seeking to launch or enhance an existing summer camp program.
Scheduling: “In the past five years, there has been a transition to having full-day camps. Before, it used to be junior golf or tennis or swim only. But parents feel so comfortable at the club, they can send the kid to have a full camp experience, knowing the staff. It’s great to have a beginning, middle, and end of camp, to have that whole camp experience.”
Programming: “Clubs are realizing that the more kids involved, the better, so they’re keeping variety in the program, to appeal to the non-athletes. There’s a camp for every kid. The programming has come a long way—martial arts, cooking, science.”
Staffing: “If you’re starting a camp, forget the idea of having full-time staff run it, because the summer months are typically extremely busy. If a Membership Director is running camp while doing his or her regular job, it’s not going to be a quality program.
“A lot of clubs will have [the] golf or tennis [staff] run the camp, but what happens is kids transition from those activities throughout the day, and they have no connection to other staff, so they’re unsupervised for part of the day.”
When Sicily McCambridge joined HRC to assume that role at the end of May in the following year, she arrived just in time to be part of the property’s fledgling summer camp program, which had been run in previous years by an off-site camp organizer. The property’s successful in-house tennis summer camp served as a strong model for McCambridge, who now hopes to grow HRC’s summer camp to that same level.
McCambridge’s first-year crash course in summer camp operations provided some valuable insights for taking the program in a more creative and customized direction. For the 2015 summer camp season, Camp FUEL (which stands for “Filling Up Energetic Lives”) has been meticulously planned, with extensive options to keep kids ages 5 to 12 active, engaged and coming back.
Creating a Plan
The 2015 summer camp season at HRC will be divided into nine weeks, or sessions, beginning June 8 (following the final week of school) and extending through August 14. Each day will begin at 9:30 am and extend to 3 pm, including lunch. Each weekly session will follow a particular theme (see box, pg. 48), with four including a specialty camp, giving campers a choice between that week’s overall theme or a sports or cheer camp.
“We added the specialty camps because of high demand, but we knew that not all kids would be interested in sports or cheer, so they’ll have the option to choose which one they want,” McCambridge explains.
In the future, McCambridge would like to continue to add more specialty camps as HRC’s program grows; eventually, she would like to incorporate a field trip to a museum or sporting event. The staff plans to incorporate more variety by offering an alternative to the program’s daily swimming component.
“Last year we didn’t have a swim component, and a lot of kids were outside and hot, and I wanted to give them more activities to participate in,” McCambridge says. “But not all parents want their kids swimming, so we offer an alternative activity during that time as well. It can be arts and crafts, or a movie—it changes daily.”
Last year’s program gained momentum as the summer went on, starting the season with two campers per session and blooming to 15 per session. The growth was partially due to word of mouth, and partially because family vacations start to taper off toward the end of the summer. As a result, McCambridge says, the busiest times are in mid-August, as kids start to get ready to go back to school.
Getting the Word Out
On top of mapping out a schedule of events that keeps kids entertained all day, the HRC staff has sharpened its focus on promotional efforts, to ensure that every parent (and grandparent) knows what the club has to offer.
“Parents start planning summer activities for their kids in March and April, so it’s necessary to have a schedule in place before then, so they can plan accordingly,” McCambridge says, noting that planning for the 2015 season began last October.
To get the word out this year, McCambridge and her staff compiled a summer camp guide, detailing the themes and specialty camps for each session. Families with kids under 13 received postcards about the camp, and handouts were strategically placed in the fitness center, pro shop, and the youth area, which offers programming for kids from 4 months through 12 years old.
Weekly e-mail blasts and a club-wide newsletter that goes out every two months also detailed the activities, complete with a calendar in the youth section. Reaching out to the broader membership also made the camp known to an unexpected group: the grandchildren of legacy members.
Out and About
One challenge that all summer camps face is keeping kids engaged. One way Camp FUEL battles this issue is by varying the setting of the day’s activities.
Houston Racquet Club has two designated game rooms, offering ping pong, video games, and an Exergame Studio, which makes gaming more physically active in a variety of ways (for example, combining a Playstation with workout bikes, so kids have to pedal in order for the controls to work). Of course, campers gravitated toward the video games, prompting McCambridge and her staff to designate specific times that they could play: at drop-off time in the morning, while waiting for all campers to arrive, and 15 minutes before pick-up time.
“We had to explain to parents that while they’ll see their kids playing video games at the beginning and end of the day, they’re not playing video games all day,” she laughs.
Beyond the game rooms, the camp extends to the pool, a full-sized basketball court and a sand volleyball court. While the camp facility space is moderate at the moment, McCambridge says, the membership recently passed an $8 million renovation plan that will include an update of the design.
One of the most popular camp offerings last year, McCambridge says, was a scavenger hunt that allowed kids to run over the property’s acreage and “let them be free,” while working in teams that included kids of all ages (all other activities divide the campers by age).
All activities, of course, are monitored by counselors. Last year, McCambridge had three counselors on staff, and this year she will have six—all college students who undergo extensive training, through the state, to learn CPR, safety measures, and how to communicate effectively with parents and children.
To keep staff visible to campers, all youth attendants wear familiar uniforms. “Many new faces have brightened the youth areas of HRC,” McCambridge reports.