There was little built-in demand for child care when teacher Myron Lieberman opened up Valley Trails summer day camp 30 years ago. Back then, more moms stayed at home and were able to supervise the summer activities of their young children. Now two-income families are the norm, and the camp is filled with more than twice the number of kids originally enrolled. Jennifer Smith spoke with Scott Lieberman, who is taking over the camp from his father, about using changing demographics and strategic expansion to grow Valley Trails into a thriving operation.
"Dad was a teacher in the Beverly Hills school district, and he wanted to be an administrator. He felt it was the right time to leave the district and do day care.
"We were in Van Nuys at the beginning. It was more of a rustic summer camp, with horses and farm animals. It started with about seven or eight counselors and about 80 kids.
"We decided to expand in Tarzana, where we bought a private elementary school. It's more of a suburban flavor, but we have expanded facilities for the camp there are air-conditioned classrooms for our art, computer, dance and drama classes. We also have an indoor Olympic-sized pool.
"We've grown to about 275 kids. We want to accept everyone who comes to the door, but we don't want to increase capacity beyond what the site will provide.
"We offer a 10-week program broken down into three sessions. The cost ranges from $585 to $860 for four weeks (including all trip costs), depending on the age of the kid.
"Our campers start at kindergarten age and go up through eighth graders. We've developed age-appropriate trips and activities for each group.
"Developing a for-profit summer camp was challenging because of the suburban, stay-at-home mom demographic of the San Fernando Valley. It really took grassroots advertising. My dad was going to local homeowner groups and offering free trial days. You really had to prove yourself then.
"But it caught on eventually. The kids would go part-time and then sell the parents on letting them go full-time.
"Now (day care) is a necessity because both parents are usually working. The camp is open from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and we also have free express transportation to the north, east, and west Valley to pick up and drop off kids."
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