Cool Camp Alert! The Double-Daring Camp for Girls, and Camp Half-Blood
Still curious about where you can find the perfect camp? Crystal Bobb-Semple has been a kind of institution in Brooklyn. The owner of Brownstone Books, a brick and mortar that anchored Bedford Stuyvesant’s Lewis Avenue business strip until the shop closed in 2010, Bobb-Semple provided childrens’ storytelling hours and other community events in the 10 years the bookstore was open. It made sense that her first business venture was an open space for community to gather, as Bobb-Semple grew up in Bed-Stuy, where she now lives with her husband and two children, and has made stewardship of Brooklyn a kind of personal mandate.
Bobb-Semple founded Word of Mom, an organization that hosts an annual, must-attend school fair for families navigating the schools admissions process, and she co-founded the Brooklyn Brownstone School. She is a founding board member of Brooklyn Movement Center, founded the Stuyvesant Heights Parents Association, and serves on the board of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation. A member of the Brooklyn Chapter of Jack and Jill, Bobb-Semple is also a nominator for the New York Chapter of the Posse Foundation. Her leadership in education, community wellness, and business development has certainly helped make her newest business venture, Plato Learning, a thriving success.
Bobb-Semple is CEO of Plato Learning, the parent company she established for Camp Half Blood and The Double-Daring Camp for Girls. A doctoral student at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, Bobb-Semple launched both camps the same year Brownstone Books closed. She kept her love of literacy open, however, and encourages reading, as well as writing, performance, and photography, to generate kid’s magic in what she calls “buzzing hives of creativity.”
In Camp Half Blood, readers become demi-gods and learn sword fighting, make Greek inspired crafts, and write their own myths. In Double-Daring, campers build a printing press for their own original writing, which is inspired by visits from leading YA authors. Double-Daring girls can also learn every aspect of the stage as they produce and perform their own original work – and the work of established women writers. Digital photography and Adobe Photoshop are also offered, so Double-Daring campers can create images as creative and powerful as the work done by Frida Kahlo.
Both of Bob-Semple’s camps inspire power in the young people who flock to her dynamic programming each summer. This mompreneur does it all with the support of her husband, Walston Bobb-Semple, a Principal in the brokerage Urban View Realty. As you’ll see in the following interview, their two children, Corinne, a 9th grader, and Colin, a 3rd grader (both at Saint Ann’s) complete the supportive home team behind this dynamic businesswoman.
1. What year did you start Camp Half Blood and Double-Daring Camp for Girls? What is the focus of each camp, and what does a typical day look like for your campers?
Both Camp Half-Blood and Double-Daring Camp for Girls had their debut in 2010. The upcoming season in Camp Half-Blood’s 7th and DDCG’s 2nd. Both camp programs are rooted in story. Greek Mythologies in the case of Camp Half Blood and biographies (with social justice and Girl Power leanings) in the case of Double-Daring. Our activities vary from day to day and each week of our camp season, but I like to describe the atmosphere in my programs as buzzing hives of creativity. We use stories as backdrops to our physical environment and add in a staff that is capable of deep dives into lore. We create and give access to an assortment of literacy “tools” and step back to watch kids create and share their magic.
2. You also established an important Brooklyn institution, Brownstone Books, which unfortunately no longer exists as a brick and mortar. In what ways has your experience with Brownstone influenced the way you have structured and run Camp Half Blood and Double-Daring?
Both camps and my developing after school program, Adventures in Mythology, are heavily influenced by my experience owning and operating Brownstone Books. There’s a level of receptivity that grows with any successful entrepreneurial venture and when you’re a customer- facing 100% of the time you become especially attuned to service – understanding and delivering on the desires of customers often before their wishes are articulated. In providing the personal service required to successfully operate an independent bookstore I learned what resonates with people, especially children who are particularly hard to move in their tastes.
3. It seems like both businesses really came from you identifying a need in the community, and then stepping up to fill it. Would you say that’s right?
Yes, but more importantly I am driven by a desire to create a more literate world and an equitable education system. Books have just been my tools for change.
4. What is a typical day like for you during the summer, when Camp Half Blood and Double-Daring are in operation?
Exhilarating. I’m up at 5 am to organize the day for my own children who attend some of the many wonderful camp programs Brooklyn has to offer. I leave the house by 6:30 to pick up breakfast (iced coffee!) and last minute replacements from our amazing crafters who often burn the midnight oil to repair damaged props. I’m onsite to direct staff, greet parents, soothe the inevitable “bumps in the road,” and make sure our kids are having a free and joyous time all day, every day. I’m back home by 6 to answer any emails and further smooth out those bumps in road I mentioned earlier. If I’m lucky I’ll go for an evening run after dinner, which I have no responsibility for making during camp season, and I’m in bed by 9:30 reading, until the book hits the floor.
5. But of course doing the work of owning the camp is a year-round endeavor, right? How has it been to shift to doing so much work out of your home, instead of from a traditional storefront? How much space do Camp Half Blood and Double-Daring take from your home life?
Our camp operations outgrew the space at home last year as well as my solo own capacity. I have a skeleton crew of 5 staff members who work with me for the 6 months leading up to the camp season. And as we prepare to enter the after school market for the first time this Fall, my staff is fast becoming year-round.
6. In what ways does being a mother influence the ways you think about Camp Half Blood?
Oh, I love and rely on the feedback from my “brain” children. They report back immediately what’s going to resonate and what’s going to flop. From a programmatic standpoint they are the best feedback loop. If my kids are happy, engaged, getting excited about a new idea or approach, that’s a green light.
7. What role do your children play in Camp Half Blood and Double-Daring? What has it been like for them to grow up with their mamma running the cool camp programs?
They love and are quick to take credit for our success. They also work hard to help when and where I need it. Corinne has been a volunteer and my most valued helper for many years and while Colin is mostly in the business of seeking special favors from the boss, I expect that he’ll take over as Corinne’s summers lean more toward pre-college activities and interests.
8. How has running this business out of your home impacted your marriage? In what ways has your husband supported you as you’ve made your vision a reality?
When I ran Brownstone Books I had an emergency contact list tapped to the wall by the checkout desk. It listed important numbers like my home and cell, backup staff persons, our cadre of storytellers, the building owners and 911. Beneath them all was my husband’s cell number and my staff were directed to adhere strictly to this order. LOL! So, my husband cuts a wide circle around my business and I around his, which actually allows us to have a relationship that doesn’t revolve around work whether in the form of housekeeping, child rearing or operating a business. That said my husband always shows up when I call. He’s my hero!
9. You have such an entrepreneurial spirit. What are the women in your own family like? What, if anything, in your own background assured you that you could create your own business model – and make it work?
The women in my family are awesome. My mother worked hard and also managed to attend to my every need. She never took her eye off of me and what she felt was in my best interest. I grew up with a tremendous amount of support, encouragement and at the right developmental time, freedom. My father, however, is fully responsible for my entrepreneurial spirit. He was an electrical engineer by trade but always had a business he enjoyed on the side. I learned the ways of business watching him.
10. You have so many other responsibilities that you’ve taken on in terms of community work. What social and civic organizations do you belong to – and how have you managed all your responsibilities, not only as a wife and mother but also as a community leader – and balanced all that with the 24 hour demands that come with being a successful businesswoman?
“No” is a big and important word. I learned that over the last 5 years. I used to sit on so many different committees. There was a time when I was on three different Boards. It was difficult to say goodbye to organizations and efforts I’d founded, led, directed for so many years, especially when I enjoyed the work. But I learned (in closing Brownstone Books) that less could indeed be more.
11. Is there anything else that you think A Child Grows in Brooklyn readers need to know about Camp Half Blood and Double-Daring?
Thank you for the opportunity to tell my story. We’ve added a week to Camp Half-Blood’s season to accommodate greater than ever demand. You can register for the week August 15th – 19th online at www.camphalfbloodbklyn.com.
The Double-Daring Camp for Girls has space in each of our summer sessions, which run weekly from July 5th-August 12th. If you’re looking for an affirming space for your girl to dig-into her passion and creativity send her our way. Our fine arts and digital media partnership with BRIC, weekly excursions to Hidden Gems Archery, acrobatics at LAVA and trips to visit daring women at work will leave her INSPIRED!
Eisa Nefertari Ulen is author of the novel Crystelle Mourning. Her essays and articles have been published in Health, TheHuffingtonPost, Truthout.org, The Washington Post, Essence, Ebony, and numerous other publications and anthologies. Founder and Director of Camp Fort Greene, she lives with her husband and son in Brooklyn. @EisaUlen