Decked out in lab coats and goggles, a group of middle school students at Braden River Middle School was focused on discovering the contents of a dead man’s stomach Thursday morning.
The activity — which did not include an actual dead body — was one of several morbidly wonderful experiments that students in Creativity Camp’s CSI-Forensics Camp were completing during their week as crime scene investigators.
On Wednesday, they analyzed blood splatters.
Creativity Camps debuted in Manatee County this summer. The programs are marketed as high-end educational experiences, targeting children with parents willing to pay on average $400 per week. A California-based camp that brings in more than $20 million annually is the model for camp organizers.
Given Creativity Camp’s lofty fiscal goals, its parent organization may be surprising: Take Stock in Children of Manatee County — the non-profit providing mentors and college scholarships to the county’s neediest children.
Take Stock established the for-profit LLC Creativity Camps in April as a way to generate more revenue for the non-profit. It is a path most famously paved by the Girl Scouts of America, whose for-profit cookie-selling business provides the non-profit scouting organization with millions in annual funding.
“The Take Stock board was struggling with how to get to the budget level we want. They raised the question of, ‘Why can’t we create a business,’ ” said Len Brzozowski, a semi-retired entrepreneur who helped launch Creativity Camps.
The board assembled a team of educators and entrepreneurs who began brainstorming how to earn money. After deciding to begin a camp, the group solicited proposals from 12 teachers and then narrowed those down to eight and posted them to Take Stock’s web page. The three that generated the most interest — measured via clicks — got the green light. In addition to the CSI camp, Creativity Camps is running a graphic novel writing camp at Braden River Elementary and a robotics camp at Lakewood Ranch High School.
This summer’s camps are a pilot program, designed to just break even, but Creativity Camps’ leaders hope to hire a full-time staff and begin offering premier programming as early as Christmas break. The camps are led by teachers, many who said they relished the chance to engage students with hands-on activities that made learning fun.
“You just don’t have time to do this in the regular curriculum,” said Jennifer Hall, a Braden River Middle School teacher leading the CSI camp. “This is what makes a kid like science.”
At Braden River Elementary, students in the graphic novel camp were working diligently on their novels. Katie McCollum, a fifth grade teacher leading the program, said students had spent all week developing their plot and characters, and many were eager to share their ideas as their story came together.
“It’s designed to reinforce the writing process, in a fun way,” McCollum said. “It’s very interactive, very hands on.”
While summer camps may seem like a natural fit for a non-profit helping needy children, the team tasked with creating a for-profit business considered buying and refurbishing apartments for college students or starting a college application coaching company. They even considered starting a company that reclaimed lost financial assets.
Brzozowski said they eventually settled on summer camps because they were scalable and profitable. He said the the majority of revenue would go straight to Take Stock, except for what was necessary to grow the business.
And, the camps gelled with Take Stock’s central mission of expanding educational opportunities.
“We are trying to teach the innovator mindset,” Brzozowski said. “Why in the heck can't the next Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg come from Manatee County?”