Adaptation to Excellence

The owners and directors of Camp MaroMac have learned by doing over the years, and the number one lesson they've learned is adaptation.

Since Sid and Esther Marovitch bought the camp in 1968, the changes in children's camps have been varied and wide-reaching. The trick has always been to carry over the right traditional elements while incorporating the best of the latest programs and activities.

MaroMac has achieved that balance, as borne out by its full summers -- when it runs four sessions of children's camp -- and fall and spring seasons -- when it runs retreats and conferences.

"For us, success has been mostly about adapting to changing times. In addition to the traditional programs of music and bonfires, now we have heated pools to go along with the lake, and different activities like golf, which we've never had before. We used to do a three- to four-day canoe trip only, now we've added whitewater rafting, and other activities that are fun for the kids," says Joseph Marovitch, Sid and Esther's son, who is the camp's director. Now, Sid runs the camp's food service and Esther is in charge of advertising, as well as being active directors at MaroMac.

Sid and Esther were campers at MaroMac when it was called Camp Hadar, and bought the camp, renaming it MaroMac, in 1968. Joseph grew up at the camp, and was a sailing instructor, swim instructor, waterfront director and became a co-owner and director in 1987.

Practical Adaptation

The adaptation combination includes staying in line with what other camps are offering and adapting to the needs of the children and their parents.

"You have to be understanding and flexible in this job. I think everyone's had a harder time over the past few years, particularly regarding safety after 9/11. We're getting more Americans because they don't want their children traveling to Europe right now," says Marovitch.

Marovitch adds that campers will "get more attention and supervision than they'll get anywhere else." This includes a night watchman who's on duty from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. -- who's connected to camp staff with a walkie-talkie -- and a 2-1 camper-to-staff ratio.

"When we take the children on a trip, we have a walkie talkie in each bus, and there's a car in front and car in back, both with cell phones," adds Marovitch.

One of the camp's primary draws is its extensive list of activities. At the same time, these activities are strong enough in their own right that some campers attend camp just for that activity, whether it's sailing, tennis or just about anything else.

The activities list runs the gamut -- water skiing, wind surfacing, kayaking, sailing, canoeing, baseball, volleyball, soccer, basketball, tennis, aerobics, rock climbing, mountain biking, roller blading, arts and crafts, drama, music, dance and golf, among others.

Camp MaroMac has seven-week, three-and-a-half-week and two-week (typically for K-4) sessions. In the three three-and-a-half-week session, for instance, campers will follow a regular activity schedule that gives them a well-rounded taste of all the activities, with instruction provided for each.

In the second week, campers follow the regular schedule, but every other day there will be an inter-camp sports day, a theme day, a carnival, or a day trip to a water park. There are also overnight camping trips to great outdoor sites like MaroMac Falls, which is owned by the University of Quebec.

MaroMac campers can also go on hiking, whitewater rafting and whale watching trips, among other day trips, depending on the program they're in.

The third week of camp features more inter-camp sports and a two-day theme day, structured like a camp color war, and three-day trips to various locations. During the course of the camp session, campers can also join teams or group activities, like ski shows, baseball and tennis teams.

"American camps seem to be more competitive and specialized, whereas Canadian camps are more about summer vacation, making new friends, and trying a lot of different activities," says Marovitch.

Camp MaroMac takes 200 children per session, 100 of which stay for the full seven weeks. Marovitch says the camp is proactive about constantly upgrading equipment and instructor training so that MaroMac is always up to date.

"We also make sure the instructors are teaching, rather than just setting up a loose game. We have separate staff -- counselors, instructors, food service, maintenance, secretaries, nurses and a full-time doctor -- for each component of camp.

When counselors take kids water skiing, they're required to participate and learn with the kids. The instructor takes over from there," explains Marovitch. "Counselors are there to supervise and participate and create a bond with the kids through participation. You don't just want a babysitter to put the kids in front of the TV; you want someone who will participate with your children."

International Connection

As Marovitch mentions, MaroMac is seeing increasing numbers of American campers, but it also receiving more international campers. Marovitch says the Web site, which lists the camp's activities, provides interactive features through Bunk1, and showcases its high-quality cabins, has helped increase the influx of Americans and Europeans.

Marovitch says that about 70 percent of MaroMac's campers are from Montreal or areas around Montreal, 15-20 percent are American, and the rest are international -- mostly from Europe, but also places like Mexico, the Caribbean and Australia.

"Whenever we have children from a certain country we make sure we have someone who can speak that language. Mostly, parents call us from other countries and tell us they don't want their children speaking their native language, but we always have someone on staff to translate," says Marovitch. "About three years ago we had three children from Russia and we had to go far and wide to find a staff member who could speak Russian. For French kids it's easier because almost all the staff can speak French and English."

Because of this international mix, Marovitch says they make a point of raising all of the flags of the nations represented at camp.

"If you come from another country, we raise your flag. We had several Australians here last year who sang their anthem. We're here for a good time and education, but we don't stress patriotism," says Marovitch.

Technology has become an important ingredient at Camp MaroMac, whether it's communication technology, Web features and tools or back-office management.

"You can't survive without keeping up with technology -- Internet, fax and cell phone. When I do a schedule change for a cabin, I do it on the computer in a second," says Marovitch. "Now parents contact their kids by e-mail and see their pictures from camp. It's a lot of work, making sure there are pictures up all the time, but the parents love it. It's the first time they get to see what the kids actually do during the summer. They seem to enjoy it very much. I don't how it affects our return rate yet, since this is our first year, but many of the kids from the first session decided to stay for the second session, so I think it helps."

Bryan BuchkoComment