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Small summer camp has the recipe for success

With 11 grassy acres on the shores of sparkling Payette Lake, it’s no wonder that Ida Haven draws hundreds of campers and visitors all year long.

But it is surprising how intense the competition is for a spot at the summer camps, which host 100 children at a time for a week of sailing, swimming, skits and other summertime activities.

Darla Roe has run the Seventh-day Adventist camp in McCall with her husband Doug for 18 years. Roe can’t really explain why the camp is so popular. She gets calls from other local camp managers asking just that.

But Roe does take pains to ease parents through the registration process, which takes place over an intense few minutes on a morning in February. On that day, parents rise at dawn to log onto a website where they can vie for a spot. Last year, 613 kids ages 8 to 15 attended the six week camps; they all filled up by day’s end, and one filled in a mere 11 minutes, leaving a long waiting list.

“For those who do not get logged in exactly at 7 am (you may miss by a keystroke!), please be patient and get on the wait list as soon as you can,” she warned parents this year in an e-mail.

“This year at 7:00.01 am there were 120 people logged on and competing for the limited spots,” she added, not very reassuringly.

So what’s the secret to Ida Haven’s success? The food and the 50 teen-age counselors who share cabins (and wisdom) with the campers, says my own 12-year-old, who adopted the camp’s vegetarian diet for her camp week without a qualm.

The skits and music are another draw – basic morality tales served al fresco in a small ampitheater in the woods.

Ida Haven has been around for 40 years. While it’s run by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, it’s open to all comers, and Roe said the majority of campers describe themselves as non-denominational. They’ve had Jewish kids and Buddhists. Last year on the first day of camp, there was a kid walking around with a Che Guevara t-shirt (Che was a Marxist).

“We work hard not to offend,” Roe said.

Roe attributes the camp’s popularity to its small size.

“We put our heart and soul into it,” she said. “Because we’re small, we know all our staff and we can be so much more involved.”

It helps that the tidy, secluded grounds are so beautiful, and the kids can roam them freely with their friends, said a friend of mine whose daughter has been going to Ida Haven for five years. Ida Haven keeps in touch with its faithful with a few cards from counselors over the course of the year – a great marketing tool and a reminder to parents that it’s almost time to get ready for sign-up day.

About Anne Wallace Allen

Anne Wallace Allen is the editor of the Idaho Business Review.

One comment

  1. Great story, Anne,

    And yes, Douglas and Darla are wonderful, as is all of Idahaven. Years ago I had the opportunity to teach annual workshops on their wonderful site. It was great times with super people in a pristine and perfect place.

    It is a place where you will receive humble, and truly servant leadership. Douglas and Darla, while not of my religion, remain an inspiration to me still.

    Thank you for this story.