The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken up business models across the country. For Camp Holiday Trails (CHT), a nonprofit in Charlottesville that provides camp experiences to kids with medical needs, it meant canceling their in-person camp this summer. The change, it turns out, was actually a good thing. CHT staff, former counselors, volunteers and camp alumni created hours of content and hosted live Zoom sessions to keep their community engaged. The virtual camp, called CHT at Home, received such a positive response from families that the organization is now offering a modified version year-round, and they plan to add a virtual summer camp again next year, in addition to their in-person program.
But how would CHT market this? Now that the program was virtual, how would they reach out to new kids beyond Charlottesville? The challenge of creating something new provided CHT the perfect opportunity to collaborate with St. Anne’s-Belfield students. Each year, students enrolled in the School’s Entrepreneurship Senior Seminar, taught by Brandtly Jones, partner with local businesses and nonprofits to generate ideas for solving challenges an organization may be facing. This year, they helped CHT with their new programming.
“Because this was the first time we’d done anything like this, we really needed useful input,” said CHT Executive Director Tina LaRoche.
Working in three groups of four, students conducted research and brainstormed ways CHT could brand the program, use social media to reach a wider audience and improve the camp’s online content. Throughout the process, students had the opportunity to learn important business concepts, such as marketing, but also valuable life skills, from crafting a professional email, to working as a group and breaking down complex problems.
For Sarah Dahl, who worked on creating a new superhero theme for the camp’s brand, the most enjoyable part of her experience was learning more about the organization’s impact on children with medical needs.
“CHT’s virtual and in-person opportunities are fantastic,” she says. “I really loved working on the virtual portion because these will be available to kids who typically wouldn’t meet the eligibility requirements for the in-person camp. And I learned about the importance of creating these communities for kids, so their medical needs are not an isolating factor in their camp experience.”
The students presented their work for LaRoche in a Zoom meeting, and CHT used pieces of each group’s presentation to build a case statement, which will be used for fundraising. LaRoche points out that while CHT has many different connections with St. Anne’s-Belfield, from alumni who serve on the organization’s board to student volunteers, the opportunity to connect with the School in this situation was very unique.
“Students had a chance to go a little deeper with the work we do,” she says. “And even though everything was done online, it still felt very personal. The students seemed genuinely interested in the organization and invested in our success.”