Kids deserve a break. Between facing judgment on social media and simply trying to make it through school without embarrassing themselves (lest it goes viral), there's finally a way for them to unwind and unplug.
Camp 17, so-named because it aims to provide a great camp experience for kids aged 10-17, is a group of camps with the goal of getting kids offline and connecting IRL ("in real life"). It debuted in August of this year; today, the organization is announcing its return in 2017.
As returning camp counselors at the Connecticut-based #bestcampever, Tyler Oakley and Bethany Mota are ready to once again help kids make connections and long-lasting friendships. The week-long camp is focused on creating one-of-a-kind experiences for kids who might've met each other online or who are looking to make like-minded friends.
The next #bestcampever will take place Aug. 20-26, 2017, and registration is open for up to 400 kids to participate. Fees range from $1,695 to $2,195. A limited number of financial aid scholarships are also available for campers next year; you can apply for scholarships here.
"At the end of the camp, the kids didn't want their phones back!" said Oakley, who has over 8 million subscribers on YouTube, a bestselling memoir, a talk show on Ellen DeGeneres's digital channel, and a recent line of glasses in partnership with Warby Parker.
The boy is busy, as it were.
But not too busy that he can't unwind with other campers and counselors.
"I was blown away by the programming our first year," he said. "The team wanted us to think of our 'pie in the sky' dream scenarios, so I suggested having puppies come to camp all day. And they did it!"
"We also had a silent disco," explained Oakley. "Everyone was listening to the same songs on their headphones, but people on the outside would have no idea what was going on. It was hysterical. Basically, we saw what was possible last year, so this year we really want to go hogwild."
"My favorite activity from last year was just the dance class," said Mota, who has over 10 million subscribers on YouTube, and recently announced her new book, Make Your Mind Up. "I kept going back to that class, sometimes twice in one day, because they were just teaching the same routine to everyone."
"At the end of the week, everyone got up during lunch in the cafeteria and just started doing that dance," she said. "It felt like a musical!"
Camp 17 was created by Mills Entertainment which specializes in forming involved and immersive fan experiences; Mills Entertainment also produced Oakley's worldwide Slumber Party tour.
"When I was in college, I taught magic at a summer camp," said Mike Mills, founder of Mills Entertainment. "I know what a great time you can have during that kind of experience, and I wanted to bring that to the next level."
"My usual audience is typically between 13- to 23-years-old," said Mota. "But I've met 7-year-olds at meet-ups, and I've met 30-year-olds then, too. Moms come up to me and say they watch my videos with their daughters."
"Even though there's a little age difference between Tyler and I, and the campers, it was just so fun to get to be a kid again for a week," she said.
"When I was younger, I would've wanted to do something like this," said Oakley. "I really wanted to go on my choir trip in freshman year, but that was something my parents weren't gonna pay for. So I sold cookie dough, held fundraisers, raked leaves for neighbors. Those things add up."
While kids need to disconnect from the struggles of existing online, it can still seem like a foreign concept to their parents: to allow their children to meet people from the internet away from civilization for a week.
Mills assures parents, and any creators who are also involved with his camps, that security is taken extremely seriously at any Camp 17 events and programs.
"It's probably the most secure campground in the country whenever we're there," said Mills.
Laura Sherman, mom to Briana (or "Bunny"), was hesitant at first to send her daughter off to #bestcampever last year. Once the family did some research on the organization, they began to feel more comfortable with the idea of the overnight camp.
"I think it's always a great idea to put the phone and tablets to bed," said Sherman in an email, "and enjoy outdoor activities with some friends."
"Today, Bunny is more independent, more assertive and makes friends easier than before," she said. "She's a painfully shy teenager and overnight camp for a week without her friends or family was an enormous step for her."
Some would argue that it's just as risky for creators who have millions of fans to interact with them for more than 20 seconds for a quick selfie at a meet-and-greet. But that's why Oakley, and others, have turned to more immersive experiences.
"I hope people can see that creators and their fans thrive best together," he said. "Being able to sit side-by-side and really listen to their stories is special."
"Our sense of community is key."