Rocky Mountain High Learning

Camp Snapshot

The Learning Camp

Vail, Colo.

Cost per three-week session: $2,600

Cost per 10-day session: $1,800

Ages: 7-14

Say “Vail” and you immediately envision knee-deep powder snow in the alpine setting of its gargantuan Back Bowls. It’s one of those rare settings where everyday people rub elbows with the rich and famous.

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But down the valley, near Edwards, Colo., something more enriching and adventurous is happening at The Learning Camp. The Learning Camp’s mission is to build up kids with learning challenges — such as dyslexia — academically, while providing an adventure outlet in the unlimited outdoor opportunities of Colorado’s high country.

The Learning Camp’s owner, Ann Cathcart, had been a successful businesswoman with Marriot Corporation and as CEO of the Better Business Bureau of the mountain states.

In the midst of this success Cathcart found out that her first-grade son had a learning disability, which threw her corporate and personal life into turmoil.

“By third grade we were really wrought with what to do, so I resigned, not sure what I was going to do next,” recalls Cathcart. “In the meantime I was looking for summer camps to send my son to that didn’t have children with behavioral and emotional disorders. I was looking for an adventure camp with academics for children who learn differently, and I couldn’t find it.”

Cathcart decided she would create her own. With a proven business background and camp counselor experience, Cathcart rung up her credit cards to the max and opened an academic day camp to help learning-challenged kids six years ago.

“The first year was very successful in the realm of first-year day camps and I convinced a bank, based mostly on my business background, to give me a loan so that I could start an overnight camp,” says Cathcart.

Running Down a Dream

Cathcart soon found that financial backing was easy compared to wrangling through the net that is local government. This was particularly onerous in a county used to giving the green light for multi-million dollar estates and condo complexes.

Proposing a summer academic/adventure camp for learning-challenged kids was almost like asking for beachfront property in Kansas, but Cathcart’s dogged determination and business background took over.

Cathcart cites a “communication style that portrays me as a negotiator and a mediator. I kept trying to bring people to the middle instead of walking away when I heard no, or overreacting.”

Three keys to Cathcart’s success in negotiating the bureaucratic minefields that threatened to delay and even squelch her camp from the beginning was the refusal to take no for an answer, a solid business plan, and the aforementioned negotiation and mediation skills.

“We had a situation where this engineer from the county said that the state of Colorado had to approve our access and it would be three months before they could, and I didn’t have three months. We were opening in three weeks!” says Cathcart.

“I could’ve screamed and hung up on him and not opened that summer, but I went in and begged,” she laughs. “The lessons in dealing with government are to keep your sense of humor, don’t lose your temper and don’t burn bridges.”

A simple, mission-focused business plan was also instrumental, and continues to be instrumental, as The Learning Camp moves forward and expands.

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