Summer 2017 will mark the first summer for Pocono Springs, a new five-week overnight summer camp in Pennsylvania. We spoke with owner and director Max Vest to find out what it was like for him and his wife Sarah Vest to start a new overnight camp and all that goes into getting ready for the premiere summer.
How exciting to be starting a new camp. Can you tell me a little about how this all came about?
Sarah and I had been looking for a camp for about a year and a half when we found Pocono Springs. I’d been in the summer camp industry for almost 15 years at that point, 10 of which were in a year-round position as an assistant director at a premier residential camp in Maine. It was a big decision, but Sarah and I both felt the time was right for us to seek opportunities where we could run our own camp. Sarah and I toured several wonderful camps, but nothing could compare to the opportunity of Pocono Springs. The property was in pretty rough shape when we came to look at it with the group of camp leaders who would become our partners, but we could see and feel the future of it. The private lake is beautiful, there are huge trees surrounding the camp and we felt the history and memories in every building. It was very clear that the camp spirit lived and spoke to us all. This was “the one.”
What was the property before it became Pocono Springs?
Since 1935, the property has operated as a children’s summer camp. We love that the history of this property is as a home for summer camps. From 1935-2002, it was an overnight camp called Pocono Highlands and from 2002-2009, it was Camp Esh, another overnight camp. The property was run down when it closed in 2009 and it sat vacant for about six years until we purchased it in June 2015.
What are the backgrounds of Sarah and you? What are your partners’ backgrounds?
Sarah and I both have a passion for summer camp and are advocates for the impactful, long-lasting value of the summer camp experience. I’ve been a summer camp professional for over 15 years. I worked for a residential camp in Maine as a counselor, unit leader, and head counselor before moving into the role of assistant director, spending 10 years in this full-time position. Sarah has her MBA and worked for years in a corporate setting before realizing that spending meaningful time impacting the lives of children was her true calling. She became a teacher and taught elementary school in Florida and New Jersey before joining me full-time at Pocono Springs.
Our partners, Mark Newfield, Tony Stein, and Gordon Josey, are all leaders in the summer camp industry. Together, they have over 60 years of experience as summer camp owners and directors. Mark Newfield is the owner and director of Iroquois Springs Camp in the Catskill Mountains; Tony Stein is the owner and director of Camp Echo Lake in the Adirondack Mountains; Gordon Josey is the owner of Camp Twin Creeks in the Allegheny Mountains, as well as the owner and director of Breezemont Day Camp in Armonk, New York. We are all dedicated to providing a unique and transformative experience to our campers and continue to center our lives around the importance of summer camp.
Why five weeks?
We take all the fun, spirit, excitement, and tradition of a full-season overnight summer camp experience and deliver it in five weeks. As we designed our vision for Pocono Springs, we were listening to families, and the five-week summer camp is a direct result of those conversations. Families want to provide their children with a full-season summer camp experience and more than ever, they also need time and flexibility for family activities, specialty camps, and other summer fun outside of camp. Families want the five-week option, and Pocono Springs is proud to be shaping summer camp around its families and their schedules.
We hold the distinction of America’s only traditional five-week summer camp, and in five weeks, campers get the best that camp has to offer plus, our program accommodates nearly every school system, so it fits into summer schedules for more campers than ever from all areas of the country and world.
Most importantly, five weeks at Pocono Springs provides the ideal amount of time to experience personal success, build confidence and independence, and create lifelong friendships and lasting memories!
Since you are starting from scratch, how will you go about starting camp traditions and building a strong community?
We are so excited that all our campers will be new and will be part of building the traditions and spirit of Pocono Springs! The traditions and community of our camp will begin with the incredible staffs who are in our camp family. Just like myself, they bring with them meaningful traditions from their varied experiences in the past and we will incorporate many founding traditions at Pocono Springs from these numerous opportunities. From there, traditions will grow organically from within our campers’ and staff’s experiences and contributions year after year. Similarly, the strong community of Pocono Springs has its roots in our leadership and the tremendously talented and caring staff. We are deeply committed to creating and upholding the positive value system, sense of community, and spirit of fun that is at the heart of Pocono Springs.
What are some of the advantages of starting a new camp?
Starting a new camp is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and for us, a dream come true. It’s rare in the summer camp industry that a property is available and also is not currently operating with existing campers and staff. We started with just the buildings and the beautiful acreage. This allowed us to take a deep dive into the entire foundation of what this camp could be without any restraints from “what it is” or “what is has been.”
What are some of the challenges you encountered building a new camp?
While there are advantages to building a new camp, there are also some challenges. Where existing camps may need to hire a percentage of their seasonal staff each summer, we are in the process of hiring 100 percent of our full-time and seasonal staff. Although this can be considered challenging, we’ve been overwhelmed by the interest we’ve had from so many talented camp professionals who want to be a part of Pocono Springs. We have already hired many key positions for summer 2017 and are overjoyed to see the passionate individuals we are joining together on our team to shape the culture at Pocono Springs and to serve as leaders, care takers, and role models for our campers.
What have been the biggest surprises?
We have been so surprised and overwhelmed at the support and excitement from the alumni of the camps that used to operate on this property. They have been such incredible supporters of us bringing this place back to life. Similarly, our local community here in Monroe County, Pennsylvania, has also been cheering us on every step of the way as we revitalize a piece of their community and form relationships with the township and an abundance of the local businesses. When we started, we knew we’d be drawing off a wealth of resources of industry experience, determination, and passion from within ourselves and our ownership team. What we didn’t know was that the entire camp industry as a whole would be such a supportive and collaborative force. Our fellow camp owners and directors frequently visit Pocono Springs to see our progress and we share ideas and excitement about our respective camps together. The same goes for phone calls and events with other camp professionals. The conversation is always of curiosity, progress and collaboration of best practices, new ideas, and how to give all of our campers the best experiences possible.
What would you like new families to know about Pocono Springs?
Our vision from day one has been to provide an environment where campers thrive. Pocono Springs is a warm, welcoming, and inclusive place for children. A place where children will have the opportunity to experience personal success, build confidence and independence, all while creating lifelong friendships and lasting memories.
Although Pocono Spring Camp is new, we are not new to the world of summer camp. Our leadership team, our partners, and our staff, we all bring with us countless years of experience, success, and passion for summer camp.
We also want families to know that we are eager to meet them! We are happy to give private tours of camp and home visits to share everything that Pocono Springs has to offer.