Two Ottawa entrepreneurs are reaching hundreds of kids across Canada with their free Virtual Camp. Chris Lutz and Dustin Rivers own an event planning company where they use their online platform called EventSystemPro to run public sector conferences all over the country. As all their business has been put on hold for now due to COVID-19, they were looking for something to keep themselves busy. As fathers of young children, they thought it might be fun to put together a virtual camp that kids could participate in from the safety of their home. “We have gotten familiar with how to broadcast things online,” Chris says. “And all March break camps were cancelled.”
The pair quickly created a website and, through both their professional connections and social media, were able to get enough volunteers to fill a full 2.5 days of online activities for school-aged children. The 25-minute sessions included a magic show, cooking classes, a dance class, and even a class on how to set a table properly. Chris says the ACT Learning Centre in Ottawa was instrumental in providing them with free courses that they could offer to registrants. “It took us about a week to put it all together,” Chris says.
The first Virtual Camp ran last week on Monday, Tuesday, and a half day on Wednesday. Chris says they had about 170 participants from across Canada and even one from San Jose, California. North Grenville Councillor Kristin Strackerjan says her children loved the camp, and it was great for her because they needed very little supervision. “Most of it was done completely independently of us (parents),” she wrote on Facebook.
Chris says running the camp has been a great experience that he has been able to share with his own children. “It’s been a really fun way for me to spend time with my kids that is not TV and video games,” he says.
The goal of the camp was not only to give kids something fun to do while they are out of school, but also to give parents a little respite. “The camp is being run to support parents’ mental health,” Chris says. “It exists to help parents keep on an even keel during this strange and difficult time.”
The success of the first Virtual Camp has pushed Chris and Dustin to put together another session set for Wednesday to Friday this week. Parents who are interested in signing up their kids can visit the website at www.eventsystempro.com/ virtualcamp. Chris says they are also hoping to upload the classes online, so that those that cannot attend the live session can still participate.