By Erica Bray
Summer camp isn’t just for kids anymore: Soul Camp (Soul.Camp) is an adults-only overnight camp that gives grownups permission to play.
It’s the brainchild of founders Ali Leipzig, 28, and Michelle Goldblum, 31. The friends were shaped by memories made at Camp Towanda, where they attended sleep-away camp as children. They wanted to bring this camp experience into the adult world in a colorful, yet meaningful, way.
The duo tapped into something special. The first Soul Camp in 2014 attracted more than 200 people. Designed to help adults unplug, recharge and reconnect -- and originally created as a one-time event -- it featured leading fitness, yoga, nutrition and spiritual experts over a long weekend at their beloved camp from childhood.
Leipzig and Goldblum knew they had more than a one-hit wonder on their hands, however, and this year they’ve expanded Soul Camp to include two locations: Camp Towanda, Penn. (Sept. 9-13) and California’s Wonder Valley (Oct. 28-31). Next year, they anticipate expanding it further.
The friends spoke with Name.Kitchen about creating the camp of their dreams for those over 21, and why their ‘dot-camp’ (.camp) domain name is as memorable as their mission.
You both have day jobs. Why start a camp?
Michelle: Our old camp director, the man who runs Camp Towanda, reached out to both of us and said, "Hey, I follow you on Facebook. I see that you guys go to these retreats all the time, different yoga retreats. You know, you could bring like a little yoga retreat to Camp Towanda." In his mind, he was thinking like a 30-person little yoga something. But Ali and I just knew that it was such a much, much bigger idea.
What did you want this camp to foster?
Ali: The camp experience for us was this enthusiasm and camaraderie, and the friendships and the bonds that you make with people at camp. In our busy world today, it's just really rare to make new friendships like that.
Michelle: A big part of that is because so many of us take on these roles and identities. Like, "I am an executive. I am an entrepreneur. I am this. I'm a father. I am a mother." Camp was a time before the labels, before the roles. We just want to cultivate an experience where people can strip everything else away, even if only for a weekend, to get back to who they really are and to form friendships from that authentic place, having nothing to do with what they do out in the world -- but more who they are.
What is this experience like for adults?
Michelle: Basically, it's the same exact schedule as we experienced at camp. But instead of soccer, tennis, basketball – it's angel card reading, yoga, oneness meditation.
And bunking in dormitories?
Ali: The experience of living with fellow, like-minded campers definitely adds to the experience. So much of the bonding, of the discovery, of the expansion happens when in the loving, accepting arms of community. For anyone who would rather sleep on their own, which is also fine, we have private rooms available at all camps.
As adults, we’re often tethered to our iPhones, iPads, iWhatevers. What is your policy around that in fostering centeredness and community?
Michelle: There's no service. [laughter] There are certain areas that have service just in case people need to call home or whatever. But we really, really encourage a real digital detox. What we've found is people really get into it and really want the break from the constant connections online. That's why people are coming here.
Who attends your camp?
Michelle: The major age group is late 20s to early 40s. It really is a wide array of people. We have a lot of young moms who are just so stressed out and need to take some time for themselves in order to recharge and renew and reboot. And we also have a lot of baby boomers whose kids are adults or are off to college, and they're looking to reinvent themselves.
Why did you decide to call it Soul Camp?
Ali: After we had our first call with the Towanda team, we were both so excited. Michelle wrote back this email with a list of hashtags, "#Camp2.0, #SpiritCamp, #SoulCamp, #Something." I wrote back and I was like, "Oh my god! ‘Soul Camp’ – that's it."
Just like that?
Ali: For us, it happened really organically, really quickly. We weren't thinking about it as, "Okay, we're going to be creating this business. What does the name need to be?" So it wasn't stressful for us.
What makes the name appropriate?
Ali: [The name] rolled off the tongue. It felt right. And it was short. You got what it was right from the get-go. Obviously it's a camp, and it's all work around your soul.
What do you mean by "work around your soul"?
Ali: By "work around your soul," we mean that through the many workshops, activities, late night chats around the bonfire, new like-minded friends, joyful experiences, play and fun, times in solitude ... it is through these things that our campers are able to get back to this essence, to their souls, and discover who they really are and what they are capable of. Campers leave Soul Camp transformed.
How did you take the camp online?
Michelle: When we first launched, we bought ‘soulcamp2014. com.” And then after that camp ended, we were like, "Okay, we need to get another domain name. We can't have ‘soulcamp2015. com’ and ‘soulcamp2016. com.’” We need one website. We looked into 'soulcamp. com' -- but that wasn't available. Then the director of the camp mentioned in passing, "You know, they just launched a ‘dot-camp’ [.camp] domain ..."
Ali: ‘Soul.camp’ was right, the naming was right. So we took action right away. We're doers. We're not just sitting there on our meditation pillow. [laughter]
Why was it important to get the domain name right for your website?
Ali: This couldn't happen without the website. It’s the space that allows us to communicate what Soul Camp is. People don't get it until they go to our website and are able to watch our video and see and feel what it is. Beyond that, logistically, the website is how we take registration and get people's email so that we can keep in touch with them and create a community and brand beyond just the people coming to the camps.
How has the ‘dot-camp’ [.camp] domain name been received so far?
Ali: The only thing that we've come across is when we're creating our little promos and flyers, as of right now, is writing 'soul.camp' -- people don't necessarily register that it’s a website. So we write out ‘www.soul.camp.’ That's the only little thing that we've come across so far. But when there's a ‘www,’ people get it.
Michelle: And then we go through a whole spiel of like, "Well, you know, it's not just ‘dot-com’ [.com] anymore." I always say, "’Dot-com’ is so 2014."
Learn more about this business by visiting the website www.soul.camp.