Triple C Camp
Ages: K-10th grade
K-6: $190 per week
Horse-back riding specialty (grades 4-6): $230
Teen Scene (grades 6-8): $210 per week
Leadership program (grades 9-10): $210 per week
(Triple C Camp offers $20 per week discounts for campers who sign up for six or more weeks)
The best camps have a pervasive electricity about them -- a high-voltage feeling that emanates from the director to the counselors and, most importantly, to the campers.
"H" and Libby Rothenberg are just those types of lightning rods. Both have been involved in camps in one form or another practically their entire lives. They met during a staff recruitment drive at Indiana University and married soon after at the camp in Wisconsin where H worked.
The couple both dreamed of owning their own camp, and just a few years later hit the road in search of the perfect camp. They soon found it in Charlottesville, Va. -- Triple C Camp.
Keep it Fresh
Years of being entrenched in the camp experience have taught the couple the most important lesson encapsulated in one word… Passion. It's this passion that creates electricity and feeds the focus of Triple C Camp -- child development.
"When we get ideas we're passionate about them. With our challenge course, for instance, our non-summer revenue doubled from the first to second years. We didn't budget it to go 100 percent, but it did because we went for it," says H. "If you want things to grow, you have to be willing to take chances. With that is the possibility of failure. But if you're going for it and absolutely following your heart because you know it's the right thing to do, it's going to happen."
Triple C Camp, which is primarily a day camp, has been in business under the Rothenbergs' leadership since 1999, when H and Libby bought the land and facilities. The grounds that now encompass Triple C were originally home to a residential girls' camp that opened in the early '50s.
The area has a residential camping history, which has been consciously incorporated into the feel of Triple C Camp. The camp offers a full complement of traditional camping programs and activities.
Triple C has two swimming pools, a horseback riding program, the challenge course, sports of all kinds, arts and crafts, drama and nature programming, among others.
"We try to be a day camp that has those overnight camp qualities. Our camp families are looking for childcare, but what they really get is a child development program, which traditional summer camps are," says H.
The challenge, particularly in the day-camp setting, is to keep it fresh for the kids who are coming back day after day, week after week.
"Every year we try to add something new or different programmatically so that the kids get excited about something. Last year we spent $10,000 to improve our road, and the kids could care less about it. It was huge for us, but you have to make conscious efforts to improve your camp that the campers will notice," says H. "So we put in the challenge course, new commercial basketball hoops with break-away rims and hand cranks, a water basketball hoop, loads of stuff at the pools like noodles and tubes, sports equipment, arts and craft supplies and costumes."
H says these additions have made a difference where it's truly noticed. It's a constant balance between the necessary improvements that are both hidden and visible.
H and Libby spent a couple of years working for a non-profit social service organization in Chicago, which H says brought a valuable component to their experience.
"Writing a budget and having to present and defend a budget to a board of directors was a phenomenal experience. If I had never worked for a non-profit agency that required me to do that, I don't know that I would do that in my own business," says H. "The important thing is to sit down and actually write out the budget, professionally and personally. It's just good, smart money management. Before we write our budgets, we write out our goals -- things we want to accomplish through the year programmatically. What do we need to spend money on in order to make that happen?"
The important item in the budgeting process is the goal. Know the goal and budget around it. For example, one of Triple C's recent goals was to have continual tubing trips on the James River. Problem was, tube rental costs limited the number of trips. The solution was to go to a local trucking company and buy inner tubes that the camp will use for years to come.
To augment its mountain biking program, Triple C kept an eye on garage sales and bought a number of bikes at a University of Virginia auction. H says it's important to know where these community outlets are for potential deals.
Sometimes a goal is recognized by accident. When a staff member brought her own teepee to camp, the Rothenbergs realized that the camp needed one of their own to bring this distinctive type of programming to camp.
The Rothenbergs help vary the programming mix by offering more independence to older age groups. Kindergarten through third grade has a set, well-rounded program, while the fourth through sixth graders are able to choose an area of camp to specialize in.
Sixth through eighth graders are in the Teen Scene program, where they go on field trips Tuesday through Thursday. Wednesday mornings, however, are dedicated to community service programs -- like pulling weeds for the local parks and recreation, going to a retirement home or helping at the recycling center.
There's an overlap between the intermediate age group and Teen Scene -- sixth graders. The Rothenbergs give sixth graders a choice between the two programs because they recognize that sixth grade is a huge transition for kids.
Some sixth graders are going through puberty and maturing quickly, while others are not. It's a great practice that provides more flexibility and comfort for some parents.
Another source of parental comfort is the camp's staffing -- where the average age is 22 -- and its attention to health and safety details. Triple C Camp requires at least one year of college for counselors unless they have been through the camp's leadership training program.
"We don't do junior and senior counselors, because the kids will play one counselor off another -- 'You're the junior counselor; I don't have to listen to you' -- so we have group counselors and specialists who run the activities."
Triple C Camp is a licensed childcare facility by the Commonwealth of Virginia, which provides its own set of checks and balances to maintain quality. But Triple C goes above and beyond the minimums to the tiniest details.
"Libby is a registered nurse and runs our health department and food service. She's the details queen of our camp -- running everything from financing to licensing as well. For example, she is very big on making sure the kids wash their hands for at least 15 seconds before eating. It's a little thing, but what we're trying to do is raise the awareness of the counselors who will then raise it for the campers," H explains.
Additionally, Triple C strives to raise each camper's awareness about each other. That component was elevated with the addition of the challenge course, which provides more opportunities for team-building.
The challenge course has additional benefits as an off-season revenue source. Corporations and school groups will use it for their own team-building exercises, or just for fun.
Triple C partners with six of the local schools, providing an in-school team-building program utilizing the typical team-building camp activities at the school.
Triple C goes into the schools once a week for six to eight weeks. About three-quarters of the way through the program, the students will come out to camp and spend some time on the challenge course.
"The one thing high-school advisors tell us about kids who are not going to college is that they need communication skills, and that's why the schools we work with have become invested in our program," says H. "We're currently looking at the possibility of government funding so that we can go to a school with a grant, because if the school has to pay for it without a grant it can be challenging for the administrators."
Another school partnership involves the camp's animals, particularly those in the nature lab (Triple C also has a petting zoo).
During the off-season the animals are distributed to the schools so the teachers can use them as part of their science lessons. It's a double-win for the camp and the schools. The schools get to use the animals for free and the camp gets free animal care for nine months.
The Rothenbergs hope to foster more interaction with the schools through their team-building programming and the government grant possibilities.
"We invite people out to our facility all the time. Nothing sells it like your own facility, but at the same time, camp is not made by the program or the facility, but by the people," H says.