My Toughest and Best Boss

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Hi! My name is Elizabeth Davis and I am originally from Augusta, GA. I currently live in Nashville, TN, where I have spent the past 10 years working in Marketing & Communications for various healthcare companies.  I can say without a doubt that working at VeryVera during my high school days as an "elf" was one of the most influential learning experiences of my career. Over the years, I have often been asked the age old interview question, "Who was your toughest boss?" My response for 10 years has always been Vera Stewart. 

At the tender age of 15, I had no clue that what Vera was instilling in her staff/me early on was that perfection comes from hard work, and attention to detail means more than just making sure the cake knife also made it in to the box. It was about presentation in the way your brand is seen everyday by every single person that comes in contact with it. You usually only get one chance, so you have to make sure that chance counts. 

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Watching Vera Stewart work taught me what it means to absolutely love what you do. She took a dream and made it into this amazing, woman-led business. That by far is the greatest gift she could have given me. Its enabled me to have conversations with executive team members over the years and really understand what it means to build a dream. Without Vera, it would have taken years for me to truly comprehend that lesson. 

Every piece of advice learned while working at VeryVera has lead me to a career that thrives on my attention to detail, presentation, brand awareness, and the ability to understand my audience. Work for Vera Stewart and it will be the biggest gift you can give to yourself, but while you're at it, make sure to taste test her strawberry layer cake...I still have dreams about it.

A Recipe for Success

Ever since I was little, I have loved being in the kitchen. It started when I would help my mom make sugar cookies for every holiday – Christmas, Easter, Halloween, it didn’t matter. Our old-fashioned sugar cookies are still my favorite cookies to bake as well as eat.

I remember how nervous I was before starting VeryVera Cooking Camp for the first time. I was excited to learn more about cooking, but I had always been I little shy. My worries flew away, however, as soon as my mother, baby brother, and I were greeted by a smiling Ms. Vera outside the door. The tradition of being greeted by Ms. Vera is one of my favorites because it helps the campers feel more relaxed and excited about starting camp. When I came back the next year, I was less nervous because I knew what to expect.

Six years later, I was offered the opportunity to be a counselor with the VeryVera Cooking Camp. I was amazed to find that Ms. Vera still greets every one of her campers every morning. She takes the time to learn their names and what makes them unique. My baby brother, now 10 years old, started camp for the first time last year, and Ms. Vera still remembered him from my days at camp.

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For me, the most special part of a week at VeryVera Camp is not the activities, etiquette practice, or cooking. (Although all of those parts have stuck with me even today.) To me, the best part about VeryVera Camp is the special attention paid to each student and the opportunities campers are given to grow and continue to improve throughout their week at camp and beyond.

The etiquette that I learned during my two years at camp has come in handy for me quite often. Most recently, I visited Disney World for a marching band trip. My friends and I went to a restaurant in Hollywood Studios with a 1950s kitchen theme. There, our waitress jokingly demanded that we set the table as part of our before-dinner chores. I was the only member of my group who remembered how to do it, so they all made me help them! Thanks, Ms. Vera!

Lily Jaremski

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A Camp Dream Come True

Hi everyone! My name is Grace Thexton. I am a former VeryVera camper, and now I'm a junior counselor for Summer Cooking Camp! It all started at my first day of camp in the summer of June 2011. I loved every minute of it and couldn't wait to go back every day! I learned so many new skills in the kitchen and etiquette that impressed my entire family.

 
 

I have learned so much from Cooking Camp, such as confidence and manners, that apply to my everyday life. One thing I will never forget about is when I was named Camper of the Week during my second year at Camp. I knew at that moment I wanted to be a counselor.

 
 Camper to Counselor!

Camper to Counselor!

 

In 2015, my dream came true and I received a letter from Vera asking me to be a counselor! My first week was scary and exciting as I had to learn so much and continue to learn every day. I knew the counselors had to do a lot of work when I was a camper, but I never knew how much work it actually took. I know the values I've learned from working with the staff at VeryVera are setting me up for a bright future. Cooking is a lifelong passion, and now teaching children to cook is an experience I will cherish forever!

A Day in the Life of a VeryVera Camper

VeryVera camp is a summertime tradition here in Augusta. I attended camp when I was a child and now as Camp Director I get to see the whole operation from a different angle. For those of you who are not as familiar with the VeryVera Camp Program, I'm going to walk you through a typical day at camp from beginning to end.

 Greeting campers as they arrive

Greeting campers as they arrive

  • 8:45 Doors open and campers arrive. Campers find their seat and begin working on their arrival activity. Campers are free to talk as they work. On Monday we open the doors at 8:30 so that parents can get a tour of the facility.
  • 9:00 Camp begins. The Camp Director will give opening remarks, go over rules, and give any notes from the previous day.
  • 9:15 Campers are divided into groups of 6. They get new groups each day to encourage making new friends! From here the groups head into the education room, the craft room, or the kitchen. Each group does all 3 rotations every day. 
  • 9:15 (In the kitchen.) The kitchen rotations are 1 hour and 15 minutes long. During their time in the kitchen the camper:counselor ratio is 3:1. Campers work with counselors to prepare 3-4 recipes, depending on difficulty of the recipes.
 Advanced Campers make crepes

Advanced Campers make crepes

 Advanced Beginners practice dicing

Advanced Beginners practice dicing

  • 10:30 Snack and restroom break. Campers get a snack and water break every day. During this time campers are free to talk amongst themselves and use the restroom. At this time, counselors are setting up for the next rotations and mingling with the campers. 
  • 10:45 Craft room.  (The time in the craft and education rooms combined is 1 hour and 15 minutes. Campers switch halfway through so they are in either room for about 35 minutes) Campers do 1-2 crafts every day, accompanied by a lesson. The purpose of the craft room is to encourage an entrepreneurial spirit in campers by helping them create innovative packaging and to foster creativity. The craft room is also used to reinforce lessons that campers learn such as table settings and table service.
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A camper paints a tote bag

 Two Advanced Campers in the craft room

Two Advanced Campers in the craft room

  • 11:15 Education room. Campers that are in the craft or education room switch to the other room after 30-35 minutes. Some campers may go to craft first and some may go to education first. The counselor:camper ratio in these rooms is 3:1. The education room is where campers learn home economics, napkin folding, etiquette, nutrition, and much more! A favorite lesson from last year was our taste bud activity where campers learned about sweet, salty, bitter, and umami and which parts of the tongue each taste corresponds to. 
 Beginners practice table service

Beginners practice table service

 Campers are doing a taste bud activity in the Education Room

Campers are doing a taste bud activity in the Education Room

  • 12:05 Lunch preparation begin. Campers begin to break away from their groups around 12:15 and start washing their hands and setting the table. Everyday a new group of servers is chosen randomly and tasked with the responsibility of serving lunch to their peers.
 6-7 year olds help each other set the table for lunch

6-7 year olds help each other set the table for lunch

  • 12:20 Lunch is served. Campers generally eat whatever they made in the kitchen that day. We encourage campers to taste everything on their plate, you don't have to love it but you do have to try it! Our pre-beginners surprised us by being the most adventurous eaters last year! 
 Pre-Beginners enjoy a lunch of macaroni and cheese with ham, blueberry muffins, and apple slices

Pre-Beginners enjoy a lunch of macaroni and cheese with ham, blueberry muffins, and apple slices

  • 12:45 Campers clear their plates.
  • 12:50 At every VeryVera Camp Banquet, campers give a brief introduction to the group. We use the last 10 minutes of every day to practice introductions in order to take some of the fear out of public speaking. 
  • 1:00 Campers go home! 
 A Camper speaks at the banquet

A Camper speaks at the banquet

VeryVera Cooking Camp is more than just a few recipes! We are an etiquette school, a teacher of traditions, a lifetime of memories, and the #bestsummerever! Be sure to go through our other blog posts from former campers and counselors to get an idea of the lasting impression that VeryVera Camps can leave.

 

Learning from VeryVera

Hi! My name is Carter Boardman. I am from Augusta, GA and was lucky enough to work for VeryVera during high school. I could honestly go on for pages about the many reasons I love Vera Stewart, lessons I learned from her, and my experience working at VeryVera, but the key takeaway would be that hard work most definitely pays off. This is something that I was grateful enough to learn at a young age from Vera. Working at VeryVera during high school was one of the best decisions of my life. I started working at VeryVera as a holiday “elf” but I loved it so much that I continued into the summer.

Work for Vera Stewart and I promise you’ll go places. Her attention to detail, persistence, leadership, and tough nature are just a few of the qualities that lead Vera to be the successful business woman she is today. At the time, I didn’t realize she was instilling these qualities in me, but as I graduated high school, college, and moved to New York City to work for a high fashion designer, Stuart Weitzman, I quickly noticed I owed Vera for where I had landed. It is extremely important to learn these traits at a young age as they will carry you from job to job no matter what you choose to do with your life. I started working in Public Relations, followed by events and VIP management and now I am working on a massive development that is opening in Charleston, SC. While each of these jobs are different they all require attention to detail, persistence, and leadership. Nothing comes easy but if you work at it you will be recognized and you will excel.

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Journey to Junior Counselor

Hi, my name is Macie Wier and I am in eighth grade at Davidson Fine Arts School. Cooking delicious recipes has become a favorite hobby of mine all because of VeryVera Cooking Camp. I started camp when I was in third grade, five years ago. When I was in third grade, I showed up for my my first day of camp and Ms. Vera came in to greet us with a big smile. When I first started coming to cooking camp at a young age, I wasn’t very interested in cooking, but I absolutely fell in love with it after my first day.

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At camp, I learned many things I use in everyday life. I learned how to set a table, fold napkins, table manners, and proper etiquette. I used to be shy and scared to speak in front of others, but at VeryVera Camp I learned how to introduce myself properly and speak to adults. VeryVera Camp is where I learned my manners and why we need them. I still have my old recipe books from when I first started camp, and I still look through them today to get some great recipe ideas.

This past summer was my first time being a camp counselor and it was such a great experience. I learned so much--especially how to work with kids, teach, work as a team, and so much more. It was so amazing to see what it was like to be a camp counselor and to work at VeryVera after being a camper for five years. Then, I came back as a camper for Advanced camp! I cannot wait for this upcoming summer to be with the campers and be a junior counselor!

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Valentines Day Camp Recap

Love was in the air this past weekend at our Heart-y Party-themed Valentine’s Day Camp!

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The party got started as campers arrived and were greeted by the larger than life conversation hearts on the porch of the cottage.

In the kitchen, we prepared a Strawberry Pretzel Salad that was “pretty in pink” and perfect for a Valentine’s-themed lunch. Campers loved crushing the pretzels by hand, although a food processor works as well!

We got our Valentine’s kiss in the form of jumbo Hershey’s Kisses made of chocolate crisped rice cereal and marshmallows.Wrapping them in tin foil created that familiar silver look and made these the perfect party favor! Campers can recreate this recipe at home using any chocolate-flavored cereal.

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Cheesy Heart Dippers were a fun and delicious addition to our lunch menu. Campers enjoyed rolling out the pizza crust, cutting a heart-shaped piece of mozzarella, and crimping the edges to create a cheese-filled, heart-shaped package. We brushed them with garlic butter to make the perfect side for a pasta dish. Campers said that they would put pepperoni inside to create a pizza heart!

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Our older campers also made some sour cream muffins from the recipe in The VeryVera Cookbook. Those were a hit!

The 6-7 year olds helped prepare the day’s snack by taking a halved and cored apple and dipping the cut side in cherry gelatin powder. The result was a heart shaped sweet treat that was easy to make and fun to eat.

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The crafts for this camp were really fun to make, as paint is the favorite craft medium of all age groups! Campers stamped beautiful patterns onto tea towels using sponges cut into heart shapes. These are perfect for use in your kitchen or hanging as a decorative bathroom towel. We used acrylic paint that holds up to washing really well, so campers can enjoy these for years to come!

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We also made the coolest homemade Valentine cards that feature a secret message that can only be revealed by scratching off the metallic layer! Print off the template and create these at home for yourself! Start by writing a message on the big purple heart, then cover it with clear tape. A 1:1 mixture of metallic acrylic paint and regular dish soap is used to create the scratch-off coating. These DIY Valentines are perfect for teachers, parents, and friends and the idea can be used for many different holidays and events!

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Valentine’s Day is a fun holiday for kids because everyone can get involved and the message is so positive. We hope you enjoy your Valentines Day celebration as much as we enjoyed ours!

A Journey Through Cooking Camp

Hi, my name is Reece Whatley. I am in the ninth grade at Evans High School, and I have always enjoyed cooking. Even before discovering VeryVera Cooking Camp, I loved to help my mom and grandmother in the kitchen with whatever they might be cooking.  

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I began my journey with VeryVera when I was seven years old and asked to attend Cooking Camp. Much to my surprise, this was so much more than just a Cooking Camp. On my first day, I was greeted by a huge smile from Mrs. Vera and all the wonderful counselors. 

Not only did I learn how to measure ingredients, but I learned proper etiquette, manners, and how to set a table. I also learned how to introduce myself to a group, which has already helped me so many times in school. Through my years of Camp, I accumulated some of my favorite recipes and still make them to this day. In the summer of 2017, I had the privilege of becoming a junior counselor.

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This experience taught me so much, from leadership skills and teamwork to mistakes not being a bad thing as long as a lesson was learned. I got to meet so many wonderful campers who were excited to learn new things. Then, I went on to complete my last year as a camper during the week of Advanced Camp. I will always have the memories of being a camper, but I look forward to making new memories as a junior counselor!

'Tis the Season

Our Christmas Saturday Camps are in the books! We had so much fun these past two weekends cooking and crafting with our friends! I can’t wait to tell you all about it, so I’ll start with our Arctic Affair Saturday Camp, held December 9th.

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In the kitchen, we made chocolate cookies that we decorated to look like melted snowmen, using Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups as hats. The campers enjoyed squishing orange candies to make the poor snowman’s nose!

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We put sugar cookies in the food processor and used our hands to mix in cream cheese to form sweet little sugar cookie truffles. Once those were dipped in melted white almond bark, we called them “Snowballs” and topped them off with blue sprinkles.

 Don't worry, he already made his snowballs...

Don't worry, he already made his snowballs...

Some super fudgy brownies were next on the menu, but we added a Christmas twist! We baked them up in a deep dish pie pan and cut them into wedges. Red M&Ms candies took a starring role as Rudolph’s nose, and pretzel twists were the antlers! Everyone found that the pretzels don’t break perfectly in half, which means each set of antlers is unique! If you want to try this brownie recipe for yourself, click here!

In the craft room our campers made slime, a crowd favorite that will last all season! They also decorated a wooden snowman that their families will display for years to come. The snowman was created by stamping a face onto a piece of wood, and using a sock for a hat! This craft was super fun, and can be done on a budget by using reclaimed wood if you want to build a whole family of snowmen for your coffee table.

 
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Our Saturday camp held on December 16th had a “Christmas Around the World” theme, so each recipe and craft was representative of a different country. For example, Poinsettias are native to Mexico and one of our crafts was making a beautiful garland made of paper pinwheel poinsettias. We told the campers about the different backgrounds of each craft and recipe while they were working on their morning work, so we had lots to talk about during each activity. Here’s a rundown of what we did!

 
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In the kitchen we made Brazilian Brigadieros, which are really yummy chocolate caramel candies that get rolled into balls and coated in chocolate sprinkles. Then we moved on to Kolache cookies, a variation of a recipe from the Czech Republic that get filled with jam and dusted with powdered sugar. Some of the campers thought this cookie tasted like biscuits with jelly! Our last recipe was a candy cane cookie ball. This used chocolate sandwich cookies and cream cheese, but a peppermint twist was added by using flavored coffee creamer and forming the cookie ball around a Candy Cane Hershey’s Kiss. Many of the campers already knew the history of the candy cane, and it was fun to hear them tell the story of the German peppermint stick. To top it all off, we decorated some sugar cookies to have with lunch, because Christmas isn’t complete without tons of cookie icing!

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In the craft room we made the Poinsettia pinwheel garland and a ribbon and ricrac Christmas tree canvas to add to each camp family’s holiday decor. Did you know that some historians believe that Germany started the tradition of Christmas trees as we know them? Our Christmas tree canvases were a little less traditional, with different lengths of ribbon being glued to a canvas board to form a tree shape. We left the outside edges of the canvas blank so that campers could customize the craft at home. Some suggestions were to use ricrac as a border, or have a parent with need handwriting write a holiday message. You can hang this craft on a mirror, a door, or even use it on a mantel with a plate stand.

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The decor for this camp was all DIY--simple gingerbread cottage-inspired garland and a larger-than-life arch made of gifts. For the garland, I just wrapped toilet tissue rolls in wrapping paper and cellophane to make them look like hard candies. Those were then threaded on a length of twine and strung on the bannister. The gift arch started out with a collection of empty cardboard boxes that we wrapped to look like Christmas gifts. We then stacked the gifts and supported them with wooden dowels to create an entryway that WOWS! I love the look of over-the-top decor, but I don’t always like the price tag, so I try to come up with DIY ways to have great decorations without breaking the bank. For this decor, I bought a few inexpensive rolls of wrapping paper, and that’s it!

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Thank you to all our campers for joining us this year! Keep an eye out for announcements about Saturday Camps in 2018. Merry Christmas!

Life's Little Blessings

I enjoy motivational speaking. Generally, the topics I approach would revolve around female entrepreneurship, “Recipes for Success,” or professional etiquette. I’ve found myself recently managing to incorporate my passion for VeryVera Cooking Camp into any talk that I am asked to deliver. Why is that?

Fifteen years ago, my accountant suggested a need to find a constant income flow for the company during the summer months. With the seasonal nature of my catering and mail order businesses, the summer “drought” was affecting the bottom line of my company. The answer was simple for me. As a former high school home economics teacher, my idea was to bring the classroom back into my life, thus creating the very first VeryVera Cooking Camp experience in Augusta in 2004.

The marketing aspect was easy, as I had also opened up a Café that year that had customers in our location every day to sit for a spell. I dedicated the old-school bulletin board to highlights for the Summer Camp program and put tent cards on each table to advertise the first year of camp.

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With the launch, my idea was to take it slow and keep registration to a reasonable number. We were as excited as our campers for our very first week! 

A few things have changed along the way, but one thing has certainly not changed: our enthusiasm for our work. Parents can count on smiling faces entering and leaving our cottage, some great treats coming home, and a love for cooking meals for the family and setting the table. We have developed the reputation for bringing out the best in a shy student, making nutrition interesting and fun, and convincing campers that a vegetable can be delicious!

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Students work through three rotations every week: kitchen, crafts and education. We have found that each room has its fair share of excitement and fun. As years progressed, so has our curriculum with classes added to allow campers to remain with us until the age of fourteen. Advanced Campers have even orchestrated a mock wedding reception complete with a bride and groom. We have had a blast with themes throughout the years.

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We have developed a junior counselor program that allows us to incorporate graduates of the program into the workforce and let them get a true sense of being part of a business. We have also fostered a college intern program that allows college students to come on as leaders, administrators, curriculum writers, and managers. Our Camper of the Week and Culinary Camper of the Week Awards are recognized in our community as “The Best of the Best” due to the reputation of our Camp. Our waiting list last year had over 72 names on it, so we put a tent on the property to manage the overflow and accepted 36 campers each week in Augusta.

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2017 welcomed our first Franchised Camps. Columbus, GA and Aiken, SC joined the ranks of camp locations and both had tremendous success. We enjoyed the training programs with both locations and are excited to watch as the “VeryVera Camp bug” takes over in their communities.

In 2018, we will be welcoming Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, SC, Stratford Academy in Macon, GA, and Park Tudor School in Indianapolis, IN. The passion continues to grow as our Augusta, GA camp director, Haleigh Newman, will enter her second year with us, showcasing how an eight-year-old girl can grow in her six years attending camp, graduate from college, then come back to take over our program. She is certainly a great role model for our young people.

I want to thank my accountant for encouraging me towards diversification all those years ago. I certainly give a tremendous amount of thanks and gratitude to the staff of VeryVera along the way that jumped in and made our camp program a huge success. Thank you to all the parents that have invested in our program and their children that have made us love it that much more. I also want to give thanks to the counselors that have given 100% each week and have joined me in my love for mentoring young people. I have truly been the beneficiary of a program that has blessed me with great joy for many years.

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Returning to Camp

Hello! My name is Tyra Matthews. I am a Junior at Augusta University. Summer of 2017 was my first year working for Mrs. Vera as a counselor, and it was an amazing experience! VeryVera Cooking camp has been a part of my life since I was about 8 or 9 years old. My family has always encouraged me to be independent and learn skills that are beneficial for my future. I got interested in cooking after helping my grandma cook so many delicious Sunday dinners. So when my aunt came to me with the opportunity to go to a cooking camp, I jumped all over it. This is where my journey of great cooking skills, etiquette, and opportunities begin.

As a child, I loved to bake and enjoyed helping my grandma cook meals for the family. This made me fall in love with cooking. Over the years, I have cooked Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas dinners, and everyday meals, and most of the recipes I made are from my cookbooks that I received as a camper at VeryVera. I honestly can say that I feel that going to cooking camp gave me so much confidence in cooking.

 
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I went to cooking camp as long as I could until I got too old and had to stop at 14. You better believe if I could have stayed longer I would have. Those were some of the most memorable years of my childhood. I learned so much and I had fun doing so.

Mrs. Vera and her contagious smile has always been good to me. At 14, she allowed me to work for her at her old location. There I got some experience in filing, packaging, and teamwork. Who would have thought that at 14 I would have experienced so much?

I graduated from Lakeside High School in the year 2015. I began my college journey that following fall and am currently majoring in Cell and Molecular Biology. Last semester, I decided to put my certification as a nursing assistant to good use. I got a job at a senior living facility. I was working almost full-time there, but when my aunt told me that Mrs. Vera wanted me to work as a camp counselor, I arranged my schedule to make it work. I felt so comfortable and enjoyed my time at VeryVera Cooking Camp. Everyone was amazing and we all worked well together.

 
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Mrs. Vera has taught me so many skills, and I believe that she has really helped me with my confidence, because in my younger days I was shy and stayed in the background. Now I am more open and outgoing. I hope to continue to make more memories with VeryVera Cooking Camp.

 
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A Passion for Giving Back

Growing up, I attended a lot of summer camps. I did everything from volleyball camps to comic book camps and made friends and memories I’ll never forget. My time at VeryVera Cooking Camp, however, was really special. Cooking Camp was the only camp I went back to again and again; as I grew older and changed, camp was my summer constant. I learned how to set a table, tried quiche for the first time, learned how to properly measure ingredients, practiced being a proper host, and began an impressive collection of cookbooks to explore over and over. It was comforting coming back every summer to Miss Vera’s smiling, familiar face, and getting to come with my older sister every year made it even more special. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize just how rare it is to find a place where everyone genuinely wants to get to know you and remembers you year-to-year. VeryVera is one of those places. You are never just a camper – you are a friend.

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Coming back to camp as a counselor was something I never expected to do, but when I was offered the opportunity there was no way I could turn it down. Getting to relive my time in the kitchen was priceless. I love getting to work with campers that are so passionate about cooking for so many different reasons. For some, they love the idea of preparing a meal for their family and sharing that special experience with those closest to them. Others are fascinated with the science of cooking and how simple changes can make a huge difference in the finished product. Then, there are the campers that just love the opportunity to make a mess and have fun! I am so thankful for all the different personalities and talents I get to witness as a counselor, and I love knowing I can play a part in encouraging them to do their best and follow their passion.

 
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I am currently a sophomore at the University of Georgia studying advertising and social work. My passions are wholeheartedly involve children, and getting to work with kids at VeryVera Cooking Camp over the summer is such a blessing. It reminds me why I am pursuing what I’m pursuing and shows me what it means to create an environment where kids are completely loved and encouraged to be themselves while teaching them what they will need to know to be successful.

 
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A Lifelong Journey

Hello, my name is Gigi Miller! I currently work at VeryVera part-time as an office assistant while I take classes at Augusta Univeristy. Due to my history with VeryVera, I am very grateful to have this opportunity! For as long as I can remember, VeryVera has been a part of my family for holidays, birthdays, and some lucky days in between. It was always a good day when I would get home from school and a VeryVera tin was on the counter.

I first began my journey with VeryVera when I was 8 years old. After seeing my older sister have so much fun at VeryVera Cooking Camp, I could not wait for my turn to go. I still have the cookbooks, recipes, and napkin folds from camp. My sister and I would practice the recipes we learned, some of which we still make today, including Cranberry Orange Scones and Cookies and Milk Pie. Attending Cooking Camp not only helped me be more comfortable in the kitchen, but it also boosted my confidence across many social situations.

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You can only imagine how excited I was when I was asked to help out this summer for Cooking Camp 2017. Coming back to Cooking Camp as a camp counselor allowed me to be part of the aspect of Camp I love--being in the kitchen, making crafts, and teaching children etiquette and nutrition. I was also able to make new friends among my fellow counselors. One thing I will never forget is getting to work alongside my big sister. This brought back the old days of camp for the both of us.

 
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When I’m not working or in the kitchen, I am a freshman at AU pursuing a degree in nursing with emphasis on pediatrics. I love being around kids, and if I can one day help children stay healthy and happy, I can be happy, too! Although this is something that I am very passionate about, my ultimate dream is to one day own a bakery with my sister. Having the opportunity to work alongside a successful female entrepreneur like Ms. Vera gives me the motivation to work hard at making my dream a reality!

 
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Doing it Fright Saturday Camp

Just like that, our first Holiday Saturday Camp of the season is over and done! We had so much fun meeting new friends and creating all kinds of goodies.

 
 A camper shows off her trick-or-treat bag

A camper shows off her trick-or-treat bag

 

 

A quick vote showed that most of the campers’ favorite activity was making a really cool Pumpkin Play Clay that combined canned pumpkin, cornstarch, and pumpkin pie spice to make a fall-scented play dough that can easily be re-created at home! The campers had so much fun mixing this up, and it’s a great activity to try with younger siblings as it’s totally taste-safe and non-toxic. In the craft room, campers also decorated a bag from our overall sponsor, Hershey, to transform it into a spooky, Frankenstein’s monster-themed Trick or Treat bag. They’re ready for Halloween!

 Miss Maddie helps a camper mix up pumpkin play clay

Miss Maddie helps a camper mix up pumpkin play clay

 

In the kitchen, campers enjoyed making cupcakes with a candy surprise inside! This is a great use of leftover Halloween candy, although our campers insisted that they NEVER have leftover Halloween candy. The frosting flowed freely as they decorated these cupcakes to look like a pumpkin, complete with a pretzel stick stem.

 Pumpkin Surprise Cupcakes

Pumpkin Surprise Cupcakes

 

Another fun recipe we made using Hershey’s candy was a Candy Bark that campers enjoyed piling high with chocolate and drizzling with, guess what, MORE CHOCOLATE! Following the Frankenstein trend, we made a crisped rice and marshmallow treat that we dyed green and decorated with melted Hershey’s chocolate and candy eyeballs to look like Frank himself. Campers loved buttering their hands and squishing the marshmallow mixture into the pan. It was quickly decided among the campers that the best way to clean all that sticky, sweet, cereal mixture off of your hands is to just lick them, but we promise that hands were washed thoroughly afterwards! For lunch, campers made quesadillas that looked like mummies and jack-o-lanterns, using mozzarella for the mummies and cheddar for the jack-o-lanterns. We cooked the quesadillas in the oven to get them crisp and melty without having to babysit them in a pan or risk ruining their cute little designs.

 The best way to clean marshmallows off your hands!

The best way to clean marshmallows off your hands!

 Candy Bark is best when topped with even more candy

Candy Bark is best when topped with even more candy

 

 

One of my favorite parts of getting ready for camp is decorating the cottage and coordinating counselor outfits. For our photobooth backdrop, we used green wrapping paper to create a Frankenstein that was larger than life! As always, our tin foil Hershey’s Kiss hats were very holiday appropriate! Our wonderful counselors wore oversize green t-shirts that were decorated ric-rac to create a fun Frankenstein hairline and googly eyes and a painted on mouth to complete the Frankenstein look. So fashionable it’s scary!

 Don't our counselors look scary good?

Don't our counselors look scary good?

 She makes that Hershey Kiss hat look even sweeter!

She makes that Hershey Kiss hat look even sweeter!

 

I’m so happy to be able to help these sweet campers have fun making crafts, recipes, and maybe a few messes along the way. I think more than a few of them walked away with a new Halloween tradition, or at least a great sugar high!

Manners Still Matter

You've heard it before: manners matter! Recently, Jones and I had plans to take our grandson, McCord, and two of his friends to our house in Beaufort, SC for the weekend. Unfortunately, Irma reared her head that weekend and we were forced to relocate our plans to our home in Augusta. 

Believe it or not, my weekend with my husband and three almost-teenage boys was pleasantly spent, thanks to the politeness of these three young men! We went out to dinner on Friday night, and Saturday was spent with breakfast and golf, finishing with college football on three different TVs.  We had one young man that was a Carolina fan amongst UGA lovers, and he was even polite about going back and forth between rooms to watch. We made "Pluck It Cake" (my family's favorite), and on Sunday the boys' parents picked them up and life returned to normal. 

 
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A few days later, we received a note from one of our 12-year-old guests thanking us for the fun times he had during the weekend. Do you think I'll be singing this young man's praises for the next month or what?

 
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Having good manners has nothing to do with status, education, or income.  Parents are always willing for friends to be invited back or included in a special outing if they come equipped with good manners.  This is truly the gift that keeps on giving!

-Vera

Where Roots Run Deep

Hi! My name is Sanford Satcher. I served as a junior counselor for VeryVera this summer. I'm an upcoming senior at Wardlaw Academy in Johnston, South Carolina. I have had the great pleasure of being shaped and molded through my formative years by the wonderful Miss Vera.

My grandmother gave me a week of Cooking Camp for my birthday when I was 8 years old, and this became a tradition for the next five years. I would stay with my grandmother and attend Camp every summer.

Going through as a camper was a great experience for me. I met new people, learned to cook, and learned the importance of manners and good social skills. My parents have always stressed the importance of showing gratitude, and Miss Vera's emphasis on manners further inspired me to write a thank you note after my first year of Camp. This must have made a good impression, because after this simple act of gratitude, the doors of truly amazing experiences opened up for me at VeryVera.

I was asked to attend the filming of the first VeryVera Cooking show at the age of 12. Scenes from this were aired on the Throwdown with Bobby Flay episode featuring Miss Vera and her delicious carrot cake. Miss Vera shook my hand in the show and said she felt that I may be a senator one day. That, of course, remains to be seen, but she planted the seed that may have me striving for that very goal one day! When I was 13, I was asked to film another VeryVera show on her new set, and we just completed the five-year reunion show this spring.

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This led up to my summer as a Junior Counselor. I was only able to serve two weeks because I attended Palmetto Boys State and various football camps and training throughout the summer, but no matter the short time with Miss Vera, the impact is as impressive as ever! Being a Junior Counselor gave me a deja vu feeling of all the amazing memories, new friends, and life lessons learned at VeryVera Cooking Camp when I so much younger. I was so proud to be a counselor and witness the fun the campers were experiencing, watch them learn so much, and see how much they mature in just a week!

After being under the leadership of Miss Vera for ten years, I can tell you that she truly, deeply cares about the future of the youth she mentors. I am forever grateful for her guidance and faith in me. I cannot wait to apply the tools of life she has taught me in the next phases of life, and I will definitely continue the practice of showing gratitude! VeryVera Camp- where the roots run deep!

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Camp 2017 Reflections

As I reflect back on Summer 2017 Cooking Camp, I am truly reminded of all of the reasons that Camp was created in the first place back in 2004. As I remember so vividly my early days in the kitchen myself, those are some of my fondest childhood experiences and certainly skills, recipes and antidotes that are with me still to this day.

Our Camp T-shirt this summer was reminiscent of the original recipe card, those handwritten notes from close friends and family, sharing secrets and written with love and gratitude to a recipient that either asked for this kindness or as a gift to share a well-guarded secret. We chose to represent what is taught in a week's experience at VeryVera Cooking Camp by structuring it as "Recipe for Success."

Ingredients:

Food | Our Culinary Director, Lora Hydrick, brought her experience as a PHD candidate and High School Culinary Arts Instructor to our program this summer and the students adored her!  Her expression certainly indicates that she, too, feel in love with the opportunity to be with this age group, and have an impact in their introduction to the culinary world.

 
 

 

Friendship | We probably have over 10 different schools represented each week in our student body, plus students that come in from out of town to visit grandparents. Our goal is to mix the groups of students up each day so that each child leaves having made new friends.

 
 

 

Tradition | From our enthusiasm each morning to see each student, to the customary first time recipes that have been made at Camp for fourteen years, we have created an experience that area young people look forward to as they approach their 6th birthday to become part of each summer.

 
 

 

Problem solving | We spend time each day discussing how to make things easier and how to accomplish successfully more difficult tasks. Something as simple as the bowl being too big or too heavy can have several solutions to get the job done!

 
 

 

Entrepreneurship | We love to showcase the fact that VeryVera is a business that developed in my home kitchen and that, one step at a time, I grew a company from those steps. Creating unique packaging for food can be the beginning of a child's introduction into sales, marketing and business development.

 
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Creativity | expanding on the creative aspect of entertaining is a great beginning for larger projects that require creativity. Developing a theme for a party and then developing that theme into the food, decor, favors and dress code allow students to learn how to write an outline, work through a plan and showcase how important appearance is to presentation.

So, these ingredients yield:

  • Useful life skills: Organization, Logistics Management, Teamwork and Etiquette Skills
  • Confidence: Good Communication skills, understanding of directions and opportunities to show leadership (
 
 

 

  • Independence: Understanding that you have to take steps at a time to earn the opportunity to work independently and to be responsible for what that entails. 
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Our VeryVera Camp Team, inclusive of each franchise and all staff members, feel that these skills and the unique way provided to develop them, makes for a great introduction to each student on how to manage their next school year.  Our Camp has grown from Campers, to Junior Counselors, Interns and Staff that are former campers.  We feel that the foundation of excellence that is being fostered through our program is being fostered through happy parents and superior graduates of our program.

Here's to year 15 coming up in 2018!

Fondly,
Vera

Happy Camper, Happy Counselor!

Hello! My name is Maddie Miller, and I am the Director of Education for VeryVera Cooking Camp 2017. This is my sixth year working for VeryVera camps. I began as a camper twelve years ago when I was 8 years old. I went through each level of camp, learning more and more every year. When I turned 14 it was the last year I would attend as a camper, but little did I know that I would begin my journey working in the shipping department at VeryVera, then on to the role as a camp junior counselor, a counselor, and now the Director of Education.

 
 

VeryVera has always been a well-known name in my family. My relatives all over the country received the famous Red Velvet cake for Christmas. As a kid, Mrs. Vera’s cakes made every occasion a true celebration. I still have a few of tins used for packaging the cakes.

The summer I turned 8 was probably one of the most memorable and exciting summers of my childhood. I was finally old enough to start my first year of Cooking Camp, since 8 was the youngest age that could come to camp at the time. I loved being in the kitchen with my mother and grandmother, but I was ready to learn more and challenge myself. I remember my first day of camp as if it was yesterday. Mrs. Vera was out front with a beautiful smile on her face and a cute outfit to match. She made me feel so welcomed and I was so excited to finally be in the kitchen where thousands of cakes have been made and shipped all over the country. It was a dream come true!

 
 

My years as a camper taught me more than just important skills to have in the kitchen, but also etiquette. The lessons of learning how to plan a party, write a thank you note, and have good manners at the table are skills I will carry throughout my life. I was always a little shy growing up, but thanks to Mrs. Vera and all of the counselors I have had over the years, I have learned how to speak in front of a large group of people with confidence and poise.

The role a counselor plays in the life of a camper is truly remarkable. I always looked up to the counselors I had growing up, and I made it a goal of mine to one day become one myself. My experience of being a counselor has taught me so much, and I am so thankful for the opportunity I have had to work with such amazing children. There is a lot of hard work that goes into preparing for camp. I have a great amount of appreciation for the counselors I have had the pleasure of working with and, and I love learning from their stories of their camp days.

I recently finished my freshman year at Georgia College & State University, where I am currently studying marketing. Although becoming an entrepreneur is a great dream of mine, I have always loved working with children. The job of Director of Education has been the highlight of my summer. I have had the joy of teaching campers from the age of 6 all the way to 14. There have been challenges, but thanks to my years of being a part of VeryVera, I have learned to face them head on and learn from them in order to improve. I am so thankful for the awesome team of counselors this summer and their hard work. I love waking up and going to work!

This summer I have also had the pleasure of working with my little sister, Gigi. We have always been a team, in and out of the kitchen. I love being able to work alongside someone so happy and hardworking. She continues to amaze me and inspire me with her determination and eagerness to jump in and lend a hand. Cooking camp was something we went through together and gained so many friendships and lifelong lessons. We have come a long way from our days of glasses and braces!

 
 

The last six years have made me the person I am today. VeryVera is a family and the best team of people with whom to work. I cannot thank Mrs. Vera enough for all of her encouragement and the inspiring stories of her personal experiences. I have gained confidence, life skills, and a great amount of happy memories all thanks to VeryVera. I am looking forward to the last two weeks of camp and the many memories to come!

Family Tradition

Our camp director, Jamie Lough, shared her family's recipe for baked beans with our campers and they were a hit! This is the perfect recipe for your summer barbecue, and we know your family will love it as much as we do. 

 

4-5 slices of bacon, cut in small pieces

1/4 cup of onion, finely chopped

28 ounce can of Van Camps' Pork n' Beans, drained

1/3 cup of barbecue sauce 

1/4 cup of ketchup

1/4 cup of brown sugar

 

Place bacon and chopped onion in large skillet. When bacon is almost done and onion is tender, add the Porkn' Beans. Stir, add the barbecue sauce, ketchup, and brown sugar. Simmer for approximately 10 minutes, 

stirring often. Serve hot. Enjoy! 

Full Circle

My Name is Haleigh Newman and I’m the newest Intern at VeryVera. Working at VeryVera is special to me because I attended VeryVera Cooking Camp when I was a kid for all four levels that were being offered at the time. I still remember the first year I went; I truly thought I was hot stuff when I went back to school because I could fold a napkin into a decorative rosette shape. Honestly, I still think I’m hot stuff because I can fold a napkin into a decorative rosette.

I still have all my old recipe booklets from camp. Among them is one of my most loved recipes, a simple Lemon Icebox Pie recipe that we made at camp when I was 12. I think I made that pie 100 times before I was 16 because my family loved it so much. I kept going back to Cooking Camp because of recipes like that, ones that teach you that good food and good taste are something that can bring people together.  And, of course, the napkin folding.

 
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Cooking Camp is an experience that I carry with me today. Every time I write a thank you note or prep my ingredients before I cook, I think of the counselors who taught me those things when I was a kid. I graduated from the University of Mississippi and went on to teach first grade in Oklahoma for a year before deciding to pursue another career path, but no matter where I am in the country or in my life’s journey I know from my time at Cooking Camp that good manners and good taste are invaluable traits. Having the skills to navigate a kitchen sure doesn’t hurt either.