She wore a royal blue velvet dress with a sparkling silver belt. She held the microphone, nodded to Drene Ivy — who had once played piano with jazz great Dizzy Gillespie — and began singing: "The falling leaves drift by the window."
I took a sip of wine, trying to take the edge off, as I had many times before listening to jazz at Nighttown in Cleveland Heights. My heart was pounding, but she sang easily.
"I saw your lips, the summer kisses."
This wasn't just any jazz concert. It was my 14-year-old daughter, Carolina, singing at this incredible venue, the only place in Ohio on Downbeat's list of the Best Jazz Clubs in the World.
And, while I think she's gifted (after all, I am her mom), she's not a jazz vocal prodigy. This was the culminating performance of her summer camp, Hathaway Brown School's Solo Voice Intensive, led by the school's director of vocal arts and professional jazz singer Laura Webster.
Since my daughter doesn't attend Hathaway Brown, I found the camp accidentally and had no idea that singing at Nighttown would be part of it. But I've been lucky picking camps for my kids. I loved watching my older daughter Ali perform on Cain Park's stage with the Inlet Dance Theatre Summer Dance Intensive and my son, Joseph, play guitar at Cuyahoga Community College's Summer With the Jazz Masters.
But through the years, it hasn't always been easy matching the child with the camp, balancing family needs for child care with what's in the bank account and weighing what's fair among the three of them.
Since the first summer camp opened in 1861, the industry has exploded with camps to meet the needs of children across interests and ages. Every summer, approximately 11 million children and adults attend camp, according to the American Camp Association.
With choices ranging from traditional sleepaway camps to day camps for science, sports, performing arts and more, I and many other parents struggle with one question for the summer: Do you let them try something new or fuel their passions?
Hawken School's travel camp fulfilled both for Matthew Blum.
Last summer, the 12-year-old spent a week with eight other 10- to 14-year-old boys and two counselors attending baseball games in different cities, learning the history of the stadiums and just having fun.
"Taking a tour of ballparks is really a boyhood fantasy, so that was really powerful for him," says Matthew's mother, Leslie Blum. "It made his summer just amazing."
The weeklong August travel camp was a first for the school, but Mark Nestor, Hawken's director of auxiliary programming, believes it's well-targeted for this age group. "They're busy doing something they're vested in, because it's around a central theme," he says. "And they're ready for some independence."
When a change in the Washington Nationals schedule forced the group to alter its plans, Nestor provided a lesson in resourcefulness by getting tickets for the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers NFL preseason game as the camp's capstone.
Based on last year's initial success, Hawken has greatly expanded its travel camp options. In addition to the stadium camp, it will offer a tour of five different amusement parks, a theater tour in Chicago and a fashion week in New York City, with costs ranging from $850 to $1,350.
Students' interests inspired the new offerings, Nestor says. "The kid who wants to do a Lord of the Rings camp isn't usually the one who will be out there playing baseball," he says.
For those who do love sports, summer can be a time for children to play with different teammates, learn from new coaches and improve as an individual.
Take Gilmour Academy, for example. As the only school in the area with its own ice rink, Gilmour runs numerous hockey camps that draw young skaters to work with the school's coaches and alumni.
"Summer is the perfect time for kids to develop their hockey skills," says Michael Chiellino, Gilmour's head hockey coach and director of youth hockey camps and clinics. "They're out of the team setting, and it's more of an individually focused setting."
Even when the camp isn't competitive, students benefit from getting outside their comfort zones. In fact, according to American Camp Association research, 74 percent of campers say they tried activities that they were scared to do at first.
For Ann Coyne of Rocky River that includes sending her daughters Claire, Emily and Elizabeth to camps at nearby Magnificat High School, where Coyne is an alum.
While her daughters attended public elementary and middle school, the camps have been a great way to introduce them to Magnificat and an all-girls atmosphere (although a few camps, like theater, are open to boys).
Claire Coyne, now a Magnificat senior, went from middle school camper to high school counselor, volunteering last summer as a counselor at the Write Stuff, a two-hour-a-day, one-week creative writing camp that her younger sister, Elizabeth, participated in.
Coyne tries to be accommodating in her summer scheduling of camps, activities and vacation. "I'm not a huge over-programmer," Coyne says. "So if it's something they really like, it's worthwhile to make sure we can find the time to do it."
That flexibility for busy families is among the reasons one-week camps are the most popular, according to the American Camp Association.
Attending camp for a week at a time provides variety throughout the summer as well. At Hathaway Brown, weeklong offerings include archeology camp in which middle schoolers work alongside archeologists at a former prisoner-of-war camp on Johnson's Island and a cake decorating class that teaches kids how to have fun with fondant.
"Kids like the diversity of offerings," says Jason Habig, history teacher and summer camp director at Hathaway Brown. "And parents feel they're getting more bang for the buck."
As a way to provide even more value, Laurel School is experimenting with a hybrid camp this summer called Summer Thyme Culinary Adventure Camp. The co-ed camp for middle school students will combine cooking instruction from Mark Spena, a trained chef and fitness enthusiast, with time on the school's ropes course and biking trails.
"Someone who's interested in culinary arts is going to have an adventurous spirit," says Leslie Evans, Laurel's director of auxiliary programming. "They're going to be kids who aren't afraid of trying new things and being creative."
For younger children, Laurel's Magic Tree House camps, held on the school's 140-acre Butler campus in Russell Township, center around a real 1,600-square-foot treehouse. Each week, boys and girls in first and second grade read one of Mary Pope Osborne's Magic Tree House books and do related activities such as visiting the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo for Good Morning, Gorillas.
Laurel first-grader Elise Burns went for multiple weeks last summer. Her grandmother, Dell Salza, chose the camp for the content, her trust of the staff and, above all, Elise's comfort level. "Some of her friends were there," Salza says. "So that was something I was looking for."
But the benefits lasted well after the camp had ended. Salza and Elise continued to read the Magic Tree House books all summer.
In fact, according to the camp association, 63 percent of children who learn new activities at camp continue with those after the camp is over. "In the last few weeks, [Elise has] started reading on her own," says Salza. "She loves reading the Magic Tree House books for pleasure."
Camp has always been a place for kids to meet new people and make new friends.
But for some children, it can be difficult.
"For the child who prefers to stay at home, I would suggest signing up for a camp with a friend," says Kate Minerd, camp director and theology teacher at Magnificat High School. "If socializing is a concern, the parent might communicate that to the camp moderator who can encourage the child to interact."
Claire Burchmore, an eighth-grader at Shaker Middle School, didn't know anyone her first year at Case Western Reserve University's Shipwreck Camp.
"Everyone has a lot in common who goes there," says Claire, who attended the past two summers. "So I made friends really quickly."
The two-week camp for 12- to 15-year-olds focuses on the history of Lake Erie and shipwrecks on the Great Lakes. Campers read a book, get a hands-on introduction to scuba diving in a pool and visit the USS Cod and Steamship William G. Mather museum, says Kathy Kwiatkowski, director of math and science programs for the Gelfand STEM Center at CWRU.
"It was a nice balance between learning things and getting out there and doing things," says Claire's mother Ellen Siebenschuh. "They made it fun and interesting at the same time."
Claire's favorite part of the camp was working with a team to build a remote-operated vehicle to test in the pool.
"It was really fun to learn how to do all the electrical connections," she says.
The camp culminated with student presentations and a talk from Dennis Hale, the sole survivor of a November 1966 shipwreck on Lake Huron.
"It brought the whole camp to life," says Claire. "It was really inspirational."
Inspiration is what many parents look for when enrolling their kids in music camps. And Northeast Ohio is rich with offerings, from 3-year-olds learning to play violin at the Music Settlement's Suzuki camp to middle schoolers composing songs at University School's Rock and Pop Songwriting Camp to high school students singing opera in Arezzo, Tuscany, through Oberlin University's Oberlin in Italy camp.
For the youngest budding musicians through teens, the Music Settlement has numerous camps and classes.
New this summer, A Musical Safari will introduce 6- to 9-year-olds to the families of musical instruments.
"These camps are a wonderful way to find an instrument where they have an affinity," says Callista Koh, head of the Music Settlement's Suzuki program.
Koh recalls a mother who insisted her daughter play violin, but the daughter only wanted to play the cello. Today, the daughter plays cello and the mother plays violin.
"By being open and exposed to all these instruments," she says. "Sometimes a child will find they have a love for a particular instrument."
Oberlin College's Conservatory of Music camps allow prospective students to check out the campus.
"Many of our programs are for students who are planning to apply to Oberlin Conservatory of Music," says Anna Hoffman, manager of the conservatory summer programs. "Exposure to the faculty here is also really valuable to determine if you would work well together."
But even if summer camp doesn't fuel a lifelong passion, it can spark a new level of confidence or an interest that wasn't there before.
"You start to see the light bulb go on or you suddenly see a really great idea come out," says Joe Hollings, music faculty member and director of admissions at University School's lower campus in Shaker Heights. "That's what it's about."
Hollings, who used to run a record label in the United Kingdom, oversees University School's co-ed Rock and Pop Songwriting Camp that takes students through song structure and lyric writing. He even uses his experience to help the campers produce an album with everyone's compositions.
Likewise, Laura Webster, who taught the Hathaway Brown jazz voice camp, sang in New York City clubs before becoming a teacher. She passed that real-world perspective on to the students, teaching them how to get up in front of an audience, interpret a song and understand the history of jazz and its influence on the songs.
Kelly Barsham uses summertime to give her kids — Evan, 10, Ethan, 6, and Ella Johnson, 4 — new experiences. But Hawken School's Lego Camp has been a perennial building block to camp fun.
Our kids go to a Montessori school in Concord Township. We've just made a family decision that in the summer, we try to get them out of their beautiful little Montessori bubble out here and get out of their comfort zone a little bit.
Lego Camp has been good for us. Our children don't go to school at Hawken, so it gives them a great opportunity to meet other children.
We try to mix it up. We try to have at least a sports camp, at least a science camp, then Lego is the fun one.
Last year, Evan's program focused on using a computer to program the Legos — putting it on a creature they had made and then programming it to go forward, left, right. So it's actually a lot more than going to play with Legos for a week.
Last summer the boys said, "We don't want to do any camps unless it's soccer." And I said, "Well, let me tell you why that's not an option."
I'm trying to expose them to other things in Cleveland as well.
There's a camp at the Natural History Museum that I'm a huge fan of, called the University Circle Sampler Camp. During the week, they go to seven institutions in the University Circle area and one in Playhouse Square. It is just an amazing experience. They get behind the scenes tours and hands-on activities of things that they might not get to do when they're just going there to visit with mom and dad.
Russell R. Grundke has served as executive director of the Hiram House in Moreland Hills for 48 years. A member of the American Camp Association, Hiram House has both day and overnight camp. Here Grundke offers questions parents should ask when evaluating camps.
Å"" Is the camp accredited? Always look for an American Camp Association accredited camp, he says. "Every three years, a camp is accredited for quality standards."
Å"" What does the camp provide? Whether it's a sports camp, traditional camp or specialized camp, the overall experience is important. "We're teaching kids manners, communication skills, leadership skills," he says.
Å"" What is the counselor-to-camper ratio? The number of counselors, not staff, is crucial, he says. "It depends on the age, but we have a 1-8 ratio."
Å"" Who is supervising specific areas? Be sure the camp has instructors specifically trained for the appropriate skill they're overseeing, including the pool, stables and team-building areas. "All those staffers are accredited and trained specifically for that job."
Å"" Do you see safety devices in the right areas? Look for the pool or stables to be equipped for an emergency with a backboard or portable defibrillator. "We may have someone who is allergic to something, and we train the staff for that."
Å"" Does the camp have medical staff? Hiram House has two nurses on staff all summer. "Medications have to be stored a certain way and kept under lock and key," he says. "Only the nurse handles it."
Å"" Does the camp help parents prepare? "We supply a boys' packing list and a girls' packing list," he says. The checklist includes things such as the number of sheets, towels and pairs of socks to bring.
Å"" How is the camp staff trained? Hiram House staff undergoes a mandatory weeklong orientation. "The program director goes through everything from a bee sting to dirty underwear."
Å"" How does the camp discipline? Ask about minor infractions as well as the more severe. At Hiram House, troublesome cases get a little old-fashioned attitude correction. "We'll send them out to the ranch, and they'll shovel [manure]," Grundke says. "That's not so much punishment, but something that makes them very productive."
Robbie Armstrong was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 9. He made friends and learned to better deal with his disease at Camp Ho Mita Koda, a summer camp in Newbury for children with diabetes. Now the Lakeland Community College student serves as a counselor and mentor for others.
It was summertime, and we had just gotten back from vacation. My parents noticed I wasn't acting right, so they took me to the hospital.
When I was at one of my first appointments, they told me about this summer camp for diabetic kids, not too far from home. They dropped me off on the very first day, and I didn't know anybody. I was a little bit nervous, and I started crying a little bit when my parents left.
But I made a couple friends pretty quick. We try to make sure every kid ends up with a good friend by the end of the first day.
I went to camp for about six years. I met some of the best friends I think I'll ever have in my entire life. I've met people from all around the world.
The thing that I love the most about camp is that they don't treat the children as diabetic kids; they treat them as children with diabetes, stressing the fact that they are children first and they have diabetes second.
This summer will be my fifth year as a counselor. Ever since I've started working there, I've had some of the most rewarding experiences and met some of the most extraordinary kids.
I can definitely tell you that I've never not had a homesick kid. The best tool to work with homesickness is distraction. It's talking to them about what they like to do at camp that they don't get to do at home.
Being able to go to this camp and seeing how different kids manage their blood sugars differently, learning what an insulin pump is versus shots or an insulin pen definitely helped me learn about myself and this condition that I have a little bit more.
Last summer in the Orange High School auditorium, the audience gave the cast of the Wizard of Oz a standing ovation. The stars took their bows and smiled. As performers high-fived each other and pumped victory fists in the air, the audience cheered wildly — a few even teared up.
Behind the stars stood their buddies, who whispered lines and encouragement to the stars throughout the hourlong production. They wore all black to fade into the background, so everyone could focus on the real stars on stage: students ages 13 to 45 with special needs, who in just a week launched an abbreviated performance of the classic play complete with ruby slippers.
It's part of Stagecrafters' Broadway Buddies Camp. The Orange Community Education and Recreation Department program pairs students with special needs with volunteers to sing and dance in cabaret-style and musical theater productions. In addition to the production and weekly classes during the school year, campers take part in swimming, and arts and crafts.
"What makes it special is the impact it has on the students with special needs," says Claire Connelly, music consultant and chief operating officer for Broadway Buddies. "They have the ability to have a typical experience."
The volunteers can build a relationship with someone they otherwise wouldn't while providing a sense of confidence and ownership, she says.
The program is the brainchild of Stagecrafters coordinator Wendy Scott-Koeth, who took part in an academic buddy program in middle school and wanted to apply it to musical theater.
Stars come from throughout the area to participate. And families love the growth they've seen in their campers. In its third season this summer, they will perform Peter Pan Jr. June 8-12 or Beauty and the Beast Jr. July 27-31 (with overnight options at Ursuline College available the second session). Auditions for both sessions take place May 30.
Where Dreams Take Off
Cole Goldberg attended University School's Space Camp as a third-grader. Now the high school junior is working toward his pilot's license and runs a website for plane photography.
I wanted to be an astronaut. I've loved flight my entire life.
My dad and grandmother used to take me to the airport as a little kid. And traveling a lot to visit family around the world really helped build that aviation love in me.
Space Camp was the first step to learning more about flight. We built rockets, bottle rockets and large rockets. We learned about what type of wings we needed to put on them; what the best and most efficient rocket could be. That got me thinking, How could this be better?
We did a flight simulator to learn about flying. We also practiced in the computer lab with joysticks and a flight simulator game. That was a really cool experience, because it's so close to flying a real plane. So I started to study aviation, take photos of airplanes.
I went every year. Then Mr. Farrell, University School Space Camp director, said, "Why don't you become a counselor?"
That was a great experience because it showed me behind the scenes of the camp.
I still remain in touch with my counselors from when I was a camper, and I really looked up to them in terms of how they interacted with me and the other kids. So when I became a counselor, I did what they did.
I liked that I could help the kids learn about something I'm so passionate about and may be inspiring somebody to want to learn about aviation further.
I decided to pursue my pilot's license. I'm still far behind, but I'm working on it.
I help run a website based on aviation photography. We have 200 photographers and 48,000 photos or so of airplanes and airports. It's called opshots.net. I've got 3,600 photos on the site. Wherever I go, I take photos of airplanes.
I have a different mindset now. I want to go into business and start a charter airline and fly people around.
This summer I'm interning with Sky Quest LLC, an air charter company. I'm going to learn more about that sort of business and maybe decide what I want to do. — as told to Heide Aungst