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Toronto Star Features


Communications Coordinator

Apr 17, 2006, 9:24 AM

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On Saturday, April 15, the Toronto Star featured a news spread on and it's path-blazing President, Evan Heltay. The article was written by high-regarded Star Travel reporter Heather Greenwood Davis.

The Star's total paid circulation Monday through Friday is 451,974; it is distributed in Greater Toronto and throughout Ontario, and is the largest circulated daily in Canada. recorded average monthly page views of almost 32 million in 2004 and average monthly unique visitors of 1.7 million.

By Heather Greenwood Davis

If youíre a parent and start to tear up while reading this, you canít be faulted. This column may save your summer.

Donít thank me, however. The person you ought to thank is Evan Heltay. Heltay is the founder and president of ó a website that lets parents search through thousands of potential summer camps to find the one that is best suited for their child.

That means that instead of shipping your diva off to wilderness camp, you can send her to a modelling camp where she wonít chip a nail.

And your budding scientist can work up close and personal with professionals in the field instead of wasting another summer in a vegetative state in front of the TV.

With more than 17,000 camps in dozens of cities and towns around the world at your fingertips, itís unlikely that you wonít find one suited for your childís unique personality.

So your kids will be off to camp this summer, freeing up the couch, the deck and the malls for you. Itís a win-win situation.

"Summer camp is a phenomenal opportunity," Heltay explains of his decision to start the site. "Itís an opportunity for a kid to really build relationships and become their own person."

A virtual yellow pages, the site doesnít rate the camps (although those accredited by the American or Canadian Camp Associations declare that), but instead provides visitors with enough information about them to begin to make an informed choice for their child.

Camps are broken down according to content, location and audience. There are camps aimed at kids with special needs (autism, Touretteís syndrome, learning disabilities), special interests (sports, arts, academics) and more traditional options as well.

The Toronto-based site, launched in 2001, is reportedly the most visited summer camp website out there with more than 300,000 people searching its database each month.

The result is that Heltayís free online resource is now a part of a multi-billion dollar industry.
"In the United States it is a $17 billion industry and in Canada it is about $2 billion," Heltay says of the summer camp craze.

"Ninety-five per cent of our camps are in North America but we also have camps in Asia, South America, Africa and Europe."

The out-of-continent camps are usually aimed at teenagers, whose parents are hoping to broaden their exposure to other languages and cultures.

"Kids donít just get on a bus and get off," says Heltay. "You actually live in that area with the people. You eat what they eat, shop where they shop."

Asking him to name a camp that stands out as unique, brings a flood of responses.

Narrowing it to Ontario, doesnít help.

"There are a lot of great camps in Ontario," he explains.

Take Camp Timberlane. According to Heltay, Timberlane is home to more than 400 kids each summer session and many are taking the opportunity to learn to dance, waterski and scuba dive while there.

"Itís fantastic," says Heltay, "you get a traditional summer camp experience and come back with a new skill."

At camps in the United States unique experiences include fitness-focussed camps, modelling camp, marine science camp and spy camp.

Then thereís the rock star camp in California where your kids will perform in a band with professional musicians. And the spa camp where they could spend a few weeks rubbing noses with celebrity kids.

Even after five years with the site, Heltay admits heís still awed by some of the experiences out there. Itís a far cry from the summer camps he says he attended while growing up in Manitoba.

Then, a trip to summer camp meant the simple life: great outdoors, campouts and canoe trips.

"I was a camper both in Canada and the United States," the native Winnipegger says. "I really enjoyed the experience of canoeing and sleeping under the stars and fishing."

But the fantasy camps he didnít get as a child are now his to explore as an adult.

"I visited more than 30 camps in the last two years, including a camp in Israel," he says. "You see these kids having the time of their life."

Costs for these camp experiences range from as low as $200 a week in Canada to well over $2,000 (U.S.) elsewhere.

But Heltay points out that with opportunities for "Camperships" (camp scholarships funded by various organizations) popping up at many camps, there may be a place to turn for assistance.

"And if youíre sending more than one child you can usually arrange for a discount," he adds, "Itís like buying bulk."

The cost, he says, pales in comparison to the experience.

"Itís a really strong growth opportunity for the children. Itís also a great opportunity for the parents."

And that parental growth neednít take place at home while your kids are off learning to catamaran in the Caribbean.

Adult camps and seniorsí camps are also listed on the site, giving parents and grandparents the chance to head off on their own or with the kids for a few weeks of camp as well.

But while options seem endless, time isnít. Camps tend to fill up quickly as the summer approaches and prices donít favour the procrastinator.

"If they wait until the last minute the selection is going to be less, the kids are going to less relaxed about going away for the first time and the costs could be greater," Heltay points out.

Heather Greenwood Davis is a Toronto-based freelancer. Her column appears on alternate Saturdays.

Stephen Winbaum is the Communication Coordinator of


(This post was edited by stephenwinbaum on Sep 10, 2007, 7:38 AM)


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