Soul Camp: Reimagining the Sleepaway Camp Experience

Posted by Elizabeth Alton on Tuesday, September 8th, 2015

Soul Camp

Sleepaway camp evokes images of lake swims and nature walks, late night conversations in rugged cabins, and making s’mores over open campfires. Maybe those times were the start of lifelong friendships or your first big crush on a camp counselor. Going to sleepaway camp is often a defining experience for kids: it’s about forging connections, finding your independence, and developing a sense of who you are outside of your normal environment. Soul Camp founders Michelle Goldblum and Alison Leipzig set out to recreate that experience for adults.

Soul Camp bills itself as an “Adult Sleepaway Camp for the Soul.” It’s everything your inner child desires to encourage play, with the pampering and wellness focus your adult self needs to relax, unplug and replenish. Goldblum is the founder of a marketing and advertising agency and Leipzig is a graphic designer and body confidence coach. As children, the two were diehard campers at Camp Towanda (famous as the location where Wet Hot American Summer was filmed). When they connected in the NYC wellness community as adults, they began to imagine who they would invite to their dream adult camp. Thus, Soul Camp was born.

The experience design behind Soul Camp happens on many levels. Attendees and media reviews are quick to point out the flawless execution. The setting is perfect, immediately evoking a sense of those nostalgic sleepaway camp adventures of youth. Organic, healthy food that’s described by campers as “amazing” ensures that the canteen in one of the camp’s most popular destinations. Yet it’s the access to some of the best minds in wellness that really make it a standout experience.

Soul Camp Gathering

The guest teachers are a veritable who’s who in the bi-coastal wellness community. Many of the activities center around health: yoga, healthy eating experts, hormone whisperers, healers, astrologers, intuitives. The list goes on, but you quickly get the idea. Past sessions have ranged from lectures on “Women, Food and Desire” with Alex Jamieson to David Mehler’s Network Spinal Analysis.

The activity roster is full every day. Campers swim in the lake (wearing mandatory life jackets, just like at the camp!). There are yoga sessions, IntenSati sessions, and much more. There are craft sessions where you can learn to weave dream catchers. There’s a steady stream of self-improvement-oriented activities designed to help expand your thinking and connect you to new ideas and practices to improve your life. Fun and play are also front and center: for example, the camp experience includes a full-on color war, cheers, and talent shows.

What the campers bring to the table emotionally impacts the experience. Building community is an important part of the camp experience design process. Soul Camp’s tagline is “We believe in play, exploration and untamed joy. We believe in camp.” The founders highlighted in an interview how central the focus on community is, “It’s all about connection: inward, to a community, and an environment of like-minded people to support each other and themselves. People come to find purpose and passion, to strip away layers of labels: who are you at your core? Live and create from that place. Tap into the power of community! It’s very powerful to bring together people that support you and your dreams.”

If the idea of going to sleepaway camp makes you nervous, you’re not alone. Fears of being left out, of not fitting in and of not connecting to the community often come up for campers. Soul Camp has worked hard to address that head on. Bunks are mixed and the structure built with no hierarchy. Carefully selected and trained counselors act as older siblings to keep everything on track. Attendees are mixed. Some are groups of friends or couples. Others are looking to connect with people who have similar interests or seeking some breathing room during times of transition.

Kerboomka at Soul Camp

From an experience design perspective, there’s so much happening to bring together the many different elements needed to make Soul Camp a success. Many of the elements play to nostalgia: the location, the bunk beds, the way the days are organized. But what it’s offering is something completely different – an fun escape from the hectic pace of life today and the space to breathe and focus on what campers want to create in their lives. Soul Camp is a great lesson for entertainment designers in really understanding your audience and focusing on the smallest details needed to bring that vision to life.

2015 is a year of expansion for Soul Camp. There are two events this year, Soul Camp East in Honesdale, PA from September 9 – 13th and their newest event, Soul Camp West in Sanger, CA at the end of October.

Images sourced courtesy of Soul Camp

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