We love hearing from our members about their camp programs, and one of the camps’ we wanted to highlight was Discovery Day Camp. I asked Co-Owners and Directors Sara Blumberg and Laura Harres to share about what makes their camp special.
Read on below to learn more about this long-time accredited camp!
Tell us a little about your camp.
Discovery Day Camp is a summer day camp for girls and boys ages 4-14 located in Indian Creek, IL (the Vernon Hills/Mundelein area). Our camp community experiences Adventure, Creative and Performing Arts, Swimming, Team and Individual Sports, Special Events, and so much more! At the core of everything we do, Discovery is a place where campers and staff feel safe, comfortable, and happy.
What are some things that are unique to your camp?
The Owners/Directors of Discovery Day Camp are sisters, Sara and Laura. This makes Discovery both a family and female-owned and operated camp, which is a special and unique occurrence. We (Sara and Laura) are also moms of current campers, which lends another unique perspective to everything that we do. Additionally, Sara was a School Social Worker for 9 years and Laura is a licensed Architect.
What is a typical day like for a camper?
We spend basically our entire day outside! Everyone is also in the pool every single day. We are a well-rounded program where our campers enjoy a wide-variety of activities every week following a structured schedule. The emphasis in all activities is having fun while learning new skills. Campers also get to choose their activities one day each week (Choice Day) and then we spend another day each week enjoying theme-based activities (Special Event).
How many staff and campers do you typically host in the summer?
We typically have about 250 campers and 65 Staff. Discovery Day Camp is truly a community. Our size allows the staff to know each other and every camper by name. It always provides us with the opportunity to get to know everyone who steps through our gates like a family.
What is the philosophy of your camp?
Discovery Day Camp has been providing a fantastic experience for campers since 1984. Our focus is creating an environment in which campers have fun while growing as individuals and as members of a group through participation in a wide variety of activities. Through the wide array of activities, events, and field trips offered, our program focuses on skill development, team building, sportsmanship, and an appreciation of the outdoors. Campers explore, learn, and grow while surrounded by encouragement, friendship, and acceptance. Our priority is making sure campers and staff feel safe, comfortable, and happy!
How long has your camp been with ACA Illinois?
Sara and Laura took over ownership of Discovery Day Camp in 2016. They have been active members of ACA Illinois and continue to maintain accreditation by the ACA. Laura was recommended to the ACA Illinois Board of Directors for 2021! Discovery Day Camp’s membership began in 2000.
Why do you choose accreditation?
ACA Accreditation serves as an assurance to families and staff that our camp cares enough to submit to a transparent, thorough review of our entire operation. Our goal is to provide families and staff with as much information about our camp, to reassure your choice in a camp. Our voluntary participation in the professional development and accreditation process of the American Camp Association demonstrates our commitment to providing you and your camper with the best possible camp experience.
Thanks for sharing about your program with us!
Thank you again for providing us with this fun and exciting opportunity to showcase Discovery!
by Allie Boyaris
Sue Apsey has been a long-time volunteer in the Accreditation program with us at the American Camp Association (ACA) Illinois. Before she retired, Sue worked as the Program Director with the American Diabetes Association (ADA). Sue I had been looking forward to visiting camps together with Sue in July of 2020, but when our visits were canceled because of the pandemic, I decided to connect with Sue on Zoom. I learned so much about her experiences working in Camp and volunteering with ACA Illinois over the years. I hope you enjoy hearing from Sue as much as I did!
How long have you been a volunteer for ACA Illinois?
I’ve been a visitor for almost 30 years.
How did you first get involved with ACA Illinois?
While I was working at Neighborhood House in Peoria, IL, I got involved with Gordie Kaplan, and Frank Lupton who started the Recreation program at Western Illinois University. Our director didn’t believe in a lot of training for our people and our staff, but Neighborhood House was a Title XX (camper funding) program and we had to be getting everything in order for Title XX (click here to learn more about the DFI Title XX Camping Services Program). Frank came to visit, Gordie came to visit. They came to Peoria, met with me, did things, et cetera, and I made it through my couple of summers there.
The strange fluke that got me to Chicago was that Gordie insisted I come to Chicago for a Title XX meeting that was taking place at the office. The fluke was that, before that meeting, our second niece in Chicago had just been diagnosed with Diabetes. We had been up there in February - this is ‘91 - to help out because this was their second daughter so they were at the hospital with one daughter while we were home with the other. My sister-in-law was commenting, “They need a program director at the ADA (American Diabetes Association); they don’t know if they’ll have a conference because they don’t have a program director, and I know you could do that job!”
After figuring out where to send my resume (because we didn’t have the internet or anything back then), I sent it in and then they called me to set up an interview. After my interview I went across the street to my meeting at ACA. The next day I got a call that said, “How fast can you move to Chicago?” So on April 1, 1991, I started at the ADA. The camp part of my job was overseeing accreditation that summer.
Luckily, the ADA executive director at the time very much saw the advantage to networking through ACA. We had not only Triangle D (Camp) that I was working with, we also had teen camp, day camps, the “whole shoot-n-caboodle.” Some of my co-workers’ camp experience wasn’t as broad as mine, so the executive director supported my growing involvement and interest in ACA. Early on I asked, “Can I see what I can do there?” and he said, “Go for it!” Our offices were across the street, so it was easy to do.
And in talking with Gordie, he said “You should become a visitor; that’s the way you’re going to learn more about camp.” I had my first visit probably by ‘92. In becoming a visitor and having that experience, I quickly realized how much I could learn from the visit. Not just in what I was seeing or paying attention to for the visit, but what I could learn from the other camp. That’s what’s kept me doing it all these years. There were a couple of years when I was running all of the camps and it always made me sad if I didn’t get to do any visits. And it really made me sad that visits weren’t happening last year (2020).
What is the best part about volunteering for ACA Illinois?
For me, it’s always exciting to go into a different program and see how they do things. Sometimes I knew the director and staff, but sometimes I didn’t. I think it’s a really wonderful opportunity to be able to not only share what you know as you go through the process, but also try to figure out some of the more challenging standards and say, “Ok; how are we accomplishing this one?”
You know, you’re working through it with your co-visitors, and you’re working through it with the people that are operating the camp. Those are always good discussions and opportunities to open your eyes to all the different kinds of challenges in all of our camp settings. It’s always interesting to be able to see how everybody positively and constructively works with what they have.
What surprised you about being a visitor?
I’m always surprised by all of the new ideas that people come up with! Sometimes a new game, a twist on something, a craft; it’s like “We never thought of that one!” However, I was never surprised by how dedicated people are. There are just some wonderful camp programs out there!
What is the most challenging part of serving ACA Illinois?
One of the challenging things for myself, and I think for other visitors, is just the time; especially in the middle of our own camp programs. Unfortunately, you can be scheduled to go on a visit and, doggone, that day it’s all breaking loose at your camp! That was the hardest thing to work out sometimes: between the camp’s schedule and your schedule, finding a time that works for everyone can be challenging.
What changes have you seen in the Accreditation program over the years?
Accreditation is a heck of a process, but I think the fine-tuning and consolidation of some things, as well as making things more user-friendly, have been steps in the right direction. It’s a lot easier to adapt to changes to the standards now with computers than it was years ago with all that paper!
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Right now, I’m focused on keeping myself healthy and spending time with people who are important to me. I have two grandsons, and for my birthday I gave myself the gift of going on a trip with both of them! The plan was to take the train all through the Canadian Rockies! We’ll have to postpone it until next year, but I’m really looking forward to it.
If you would like to be featured in our Camp/Volunteer Spotlight contact Allie Boyaris at firstname.lastname@example.org!