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.
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!
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.
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.
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.