Whether to offset a summertime slump in usage or boost ancillary revenue, enhancing summer camp offerings may be just the answer for fitness facility operators looking to fill a void in programming during the summer months.

Today's summer camps focus on more than sports, a message that the Dedham (MA) Health and Athletic Complex emphasized when it changed the program's name from the Ultimate Sports Camp to the Ultimate Day Camp. Though the club continues to promote swimming lessons and tennis on a daily basis as lifelong sports, the camp also markets camp programming tailored to a variety of interests, including sports, science or arts, crafts and theater.

General Manager Stephen Lempert says the rest of campers' activities are up to the individual. Options include rock wall climbing, laser tag, theater productions in a professional black box theater and dance programs choreographed by a professional dancer.

The camp takes up a lot of space within the 240,000-square-foot complex, but campers are divided into small groups that meet in areas of the club typically less used during the summertime, Lempert says.

The 12-week program is structured in week-long sessions. The cost per week decreases the more weeks that children are enrolled. One week costs $524, two to three weeks is $489 per week, four to seven weeks is $459 per week and eight to 12 weeks costs $439 per week.

Hiring employees who work the camps in the summer but work other areas of the club during the winter helps with the budgeting.

"We don't have full-time staff eating away at our camp budget,” Lempert says. "We have people who can multitask during the winter time by devoting 25 percent of their time to camp through various marketing or planning efforts. The other 75 percent of their time, they assure our kids programs are functioning well.”

Because of the cross-hiring, though, it is difficult to calculate the exact cost of running the summer camps, he says.

The Dedham Health and Athletic Complex is just one of several facilities across the United States that run summer camps that offer more than sports. Available to members and the general community, Fitness Plus Youth Summer Camp at Saint Francis Medical Center Health and Wellness Center, Cape Girardeau, MO, focuses on health, physical fitness, education, culture, intellectual stimulation, and social growth and development.

Campers Demonstrate Improved Attitude Towards Health

The program's original budget for expenses this past summer was $9,000 based on registration of 16 children per week-long session. But because of the popularity of the program, registration was expanded to accommodate 25 children per session—and actual expenditures came in around $11,000. However, the gross revenue was $32,000, according to assistant manager Doug Gannon.

Feedback from parents as well as data collected by Gannon's staff showed that the children left the program in better physical condition with a better attitude towards physical fitness and healthy eating, and they demonstrated better social behaviors, including an understanding of diversity.

"The goals of the program were not to force children to exercise and eat healthy but to develop a better attitude toward these behaviors after they experienced the program,” Gannon says.

The Mini Canes Recreational Sports Camp also addresses the health and well-being of campers. Organized by the Herbert Wellness Center at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, FL, the camp integrates multiple pillars of wellness into the programming.

Mini Canes, which won the Best Children's Program award in Club Industry's Best of the Best contest this year, gives campers developmental opportunities that will help to enhance their quality of life as they get older by discussing physical, intellectual, social, emotional, occupational and environmental wellness, says Rhonda DuBord, camp director and Herbert Wellness Center associate director.

The summer camp first opened in 1996 and has grown to incorporate a guide to nutritional, physical and financial wellness for kids. Divided into two-week sessions, campers learn about these particular components of wellness while taking part in a variety of outdoor and indoor games and activities, both recreational and educational. Each week of camp features a sport of the week in addition to theme days, special events, and health and wellness educational programming.

The eight-week summer camp runs from June through August and is open to children ages 6 to 12. The camp has 180 to 200 campers during each two-week session for a total of 800 participants. About 85 percent of campers return, and approximately 30 new campers come each year. The camp has a budget of $300,000 and yields $100,000 to $150,000 profit for the Department of Wellness and Recreation.

Though overlying themes are common, variety is a key element at Sparrow Michigan Athletic Club's MAC Summer Camp. Each week has a different theme, field trip, crafts, and sports and fitness activities. Previous popular themes included Olympic games, outer space and sports. Field trips are coordinated with that week's theme.

"We're obviously active all day long, so they get a lot of their physical fitness in the summer here, but we have a variety of activities,” Kelli Russell, who at the time was the youth and special events coordinator at the East Lansing, MI, facility, told Club Industry last year after Sparrow Michigan Athletic Club was recognized for the Best Children's Program in Club Industry's Best of the Best contest.

With a participation goal of 28 children per day, the camp attracted a daily average of 35 campers, and in some weeks almost 50 children attended camp. The increased attendance helped the program surpass its revenue estimate of $47,000 by $26,000, achieving 155 percent of its goal. It also came in under its budgeted expenses of $26,345 by almost $3,000, which Russell said was due to careful shopping for supplies and reusing materials when possible.