My guest today is Dan Grabel, social worker, educator and owner/director of Camp Manitowa. Welcome to OpEdNews, Dan.
JB: How did you get into the camping business?
DG: Thanks so much in your interest in Camp Manitowa and our #CampFerguson.
Thanks so much for your interest in our camp and Camp Ferguson. I first got into camping when I was 12 years old, attending my very first sleep away camp. I was a shy and quiet kid who was a bit reluctant to go away to camp and spent four weeks where I knew no one. I quickly felt comfortable, was accepted by the boys in my cabin, and came to absolutely love the camp experience. Camp allowed me to take risks and succeed in social situations, participate in an array of new activities, take on leadership role, and build confidence that was unique at that time in my life. I continued to attend the camp for the next seven years as a camper and chose to work as a camp counselor throughout high school and college.
After having graduated Indiana University I was hired by Andy Brown, who became my long term mentor and current business partner, into my first camp administrator role. I found this to be very engaging and rewarding as I was able to influence younger counselors and inpart my love of camp and belief in its potential to be a transformational experience.
During the next five summers, I worked as an administrator, social worker, and adventure trip leader at three different camps. I reconnected with Andy in 1997 where we worked together directing a residential summer camp in the Midwest for 12 years. We would often talk casually about our desire to start, own, and operate a private camp where we could incorporate the best practices learn from our work and experience at dozens of previous camps. In 2008, fearing time may be passing us by, we decided to go for it and embarked on a two-year search for the a camp property to purchase. In 2010, on the verge of giving up, we finally found what we believed to be an ideal camp in southern Illinois. It had a large lake for waterskiing, a nice sized ball field, and land perfect for building a high ropes challenge course and zip line, the three facility prerequisites we had for starting a great camp. We bought the property, renovated the entire facility, and were open for business in the fall of 2010. We are entering our sixth year and have served over 10,000 children, families, and adults.
I couldn't think of anything I'd rather be doing that would give me as much personal and professional satisfaction. And I clearly remember the seed being planted way back in 1982, on my very first day as a camper.
JB: Before we move to Camp Ferguson, you mentioned that you also service adults and whole families. When I think of summer camp, I think of kids. Tell us about your adult and family programming. How do you do it? Does it go on simultaneously with the kids' programming?
DG: We offer a variety of family and adult retreats such as our Mother/Daughter Spring retreat Father/Son Fall retreat, Women's weekend retreat, yoga events, family reunions, etc. where we serve over 400 total people annually.
We thoroughly enjoy the diversity of clientele we serve.
JB: I'm curious, Dan. Did all this diversity of programming and clientele spring into being immediately or has it evolved along with the camp? How did you get into the mother/daughter, father/son and yoga events? Such great ideas; where did they come from?
DG: Building an active "off season" retreat business has been the most interesting and unexpected part of starting Camp Manitowa. We started the camp with the mindset that it would be strictly a summer camp but soon realized the need for revenue during the fall and spring. Marketing and developing our retreat business became a fun and challenging aspect of our overall business. Andy and I would brainstorm retreat ideas, would reach out to parents, schools, universities, the yoga community, and other organizations we met throughout the year, and advertise our camp as a unique outdoor retreat and education center, all in an attempt to develop creative programming for a diverse clientele.
JB: The growth process sounds fun and creative. How has it gone? Are there programs one in four off-season weekends, more, less? What's your goal that both satisfies the bottom line but doesn't burn you out?