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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Summer camps get social media boost

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – This summer, Kathryn “Skooby” Cheser will apply some high-tech digital skills at a very traditional place – summer camp.

Each day this summer at Triple C Camp in Albemarle County, Cheser will use Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to document and share the experiences of campers. A native of Australia, this summer will be Cheser’s sixth at Triple C. She started as a drama specialist, helping campers to relax, learn and have fun through song and dance, and last year she took on a new role – information technology specialist. ...

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – This summer, Kathryn “Skooby” Cheser will apply some high-tech digital skills at a very traditional place – summer camp.

Each day this summer at Triple C Camp in Albemarle County, Cheser will use Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to document and share the experiences of campers. A native of Australia, this summer will be Cheser’s sixth at Triple C. She started as a drama specialist, helping campers to relax, learn and have fun through song and dance, and last year she took on a new role – information technology specialist.

Although being hands-on with technology isn’t a typical part of the camper’s experience, “it’s more to bring parents into our world without having to leave their home. They can see what their kids are doing,” Cheser said.

Most camp days are so full of new and exciting activities that at the end of the day, Cheser said, it’s sometimes difficult for younger campers to articulate or remember everything they did. With technology, Cheser said, parents, family and friends can more easily see and share in what their children are doing.

Howard “H’’ Rothenberg, who owns and runs Triple C with his wife, Libby, echoed that sentiment, saying that elevating the digital experience is an important step in an era when it’s important for all businesses to take an active role in creating buzzworthy messages that resonate with customers and the community.

“Every day, we have a video that goes up on YouTube,” Rothenberg said. “When the kids get home, it gets them more excited about the experience. It keeps camp in the front of their mind.”

Rothenberg has a degree in elementary education and has been “at camp” since 1975, rising from camper to counselor, to supervisor and, finally, to owner.

“My freshman year in college, I took business classes, but after my freshman year in college, I went to work at a camp, and that sealed the deal to switch from business to elementary education,” Rothenberg said. He and Libby, a registered nurse, have owned Triple C for about 15 years.

At the peak of the busy summer season, the day camp may host up to 300 children a week and employs about 70 people. During the busy summer season, Rothenberg said, his work weeks can easily reach 80 hours.

“When you’re a camping professional, you pretty much eat, breathe, live and sleep camp,” said Rothenberg, who also blogs regularly.

Employing digital marketing is a national trend, said Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association.

“Parents today pick almost everything online – restaurants, vacations, doctors and activities for their kids,” Smith said in an email. “Camps are very savvy, using digital marketing tools such as websites and social networks to inform parents of the value of the camp experience. Once parents are intrigued, they will show their kids.”

Rothenberg describes Triple C as a traditional camp facility. There are 43 acres and activities that are purpose-built for children.

Camping at the property dates to 1951, according to a history overview on the camp’s website. Previously known as Camp Viewmont, the Baptist Church of Richmond opened and operated a residential camp on the property until 1984. Camp activity continued under two other owners before the couple bought the camp in 1999.

Rothenberg said they approach camp as child development, as opposed to child care.

Part of that development aspect, Rothenberg said, is highlighting the diversity that staff members such as Cheser bring to the experience.

“The diversity allows us to teach kids things they would never learn otherwise, which then become new memories,” Rothenberg said. “We understand, especially in Charlottesville, there are a lot of families that have two working parents, and they’re looking for really good child care,” he continued.

“We are still looking at ourselves as child development. That’s what we want for our campers. I think there is a difference of a focus in regards to child care and child development,” Rothenberg said.

In an industry that’s steeped in tradition, Smith said camps are successfully meeting a variety of challenges head-on.

“The camp community is, by and large, an unplugged community for children, youth, and adults that has learned to market and promote the experience using digital innovation. That is certainly unique!” Smith said.