New Age Camping

In the 1991 movie City Slickers, a crusty old cowboy played by Jack Palance dispenses this bit of wisdom to Billy Crystal’s character (who’s suffering a mid-life crisis), and I’m paraphrasing here, “One thing. Find the one thing you’re good at and concentrate on it. If you do, you will be happy.”

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This theme, as simplistic as it sounds, could just as easily be the motto for Camp Kiowa in Denton, Texas where they work to provide experiences designed to help camper’s uncover their hidden talents.

The goal, according to Brian Manhart, owner and director, is to enrich camper’s lives by teaching them about themselves, by helping them discover not what they’re good at, but what they’re great at. In short, by providing them with their “one thing.”

Manhart’s “One Thing”
Manhart’s enrichment philosophy grew out of his own path of self-discovery, which began in, of all places, architectural and mechanical drawing.

“I spent three years of my undergraduate experience struggling to maintain a 3.0 grade point average in the architectural/mechanical drawing field,” says Manhart. “I was good at it, but eventually found I’m even better (and happier) working with people. I started taking sociology classes and had no problem maintaining a 4.0 grade point average. I found out what I’m great at.”

Undergraduate school led to graduate school where he earned a master’s degree in social work administration and decided the only way he was really going to understand how people operate was to go beyond casual visits and immerse himself in their community.

His community of choice? Children’s camping.

Manhart got his start with Camp Laurel on the east coast first as a seasonal staffer and then full-time. From there, he moved to Camp Balcones Springs in Texas and, last November, purchased Camp Kiowa, which, at the time, was three years old.

A Place For Kids To Shine
Billed as more than a sports camp and more than a summer camp, the camp offers one, two and three week sessions and is located on the picturesque 270-acre campus of Texas Woman’s University. The small campus offers Kiowa camper’s access to state-of-the-art computer labs, fine arts facilities, two Olympic-size swimming pools and a modern student center.

“We lease the university and their food service,” says Manhart. “It’s really worked great for us because I can spend my time in the off-season on building relationships and marketing the camp as opposed to maintaining/improving the facility.”

A typical day at Kiowa is broken up into Morning Explorations (camper’s choose two per week), Afternoon Workshops (camper’s choose two per day) and Evening Entertainment.

The Morning Explorations place camper’s under the tutelage of experts in the field—often straight from corporate America. For example a prominent local chef (Chef Matt, formerly with Central Market and now with his own personal chef service) teaches the cooking program and LEGO supplies their Mindstorms Robotics Invention System for both the beginning and advanced robotics programs—where camper’s design and build their own functioning robots.

In the afternoon, campers can sign up for more traditional camp activities—everything from sports (baseball, swimming, self defense, rock climbing, etc.) to arts and crafts, journalism or magic.

The evening’s end with a different entertainment theme each night such as the camper talent show, Dive-In Movie, Hawaiian Luau and more. In the end, camper’s and their parents are happy with the experiences Camp Kiowa provides.

As one camp family said, “Eileen hasn’t stopped talking about camp since she returned. On Father’s Day she used a recipe from Chef Matt’s book and cooked a great meal for the family. Thank you again for managing such a great experience for the kids.”

On Purpose Camp
As the camp grows, Manhart strives to keep his entire organization in line with his personal beliefs.

“One of the big lessons I’ve learned is to work diligently to maintain clarity within yourself and your camp,” says Manhart, “What exactly am I all about? What am I trying to do? Where are my strengths? What is the camp all about? What is the camp trying to accomplish? And then, you need to work to make decisions consistent with that mission.”

And that, according to Manhart, is the tough part.

“It’s difficult making decisions that reflect that clarity,” says Manhart, “because it may not enable you to make as much money or it may not be in line with what society wants you to do.”

One decision that met his criteria was the use of a powerful camp management solution to streamline communication and strengthen relationships with campers, parents and staff.

“We were one of the first customers CampMinder had,” says Manhart. “The program they’ve developed has been phenomenal in its ability to allow me to follow up with parents, campers and staff and square away my financials. It allows the business side of things to take care of itself, so I can concentrate on what I do best, which is to be with people.”

Manhart believes deeply that finding clarity about exactly who he is and what makes him click as well as finding clarity in what his camp is all about is priority number one.

“Once you do that,” says Manhart, “you’re an on purpose camp. Parents, staff, and campers see that and they want that. It’s unbelievable, but it’s real and you just have to flow with it.”

Sounds new age to me.