Finding community (and your soul’s desire) at a sleepaway camp for grownups.
Summer is meant for making body-shaking, soul-shaping memories. And the best way to ensure that this happens is to bring 200 to 300 like-minded individuals together in a dreamlike setting where twilight is extended and reality is suspended. This is the space of Soul Camp, the ultimate adult sleepaway camp that happens once upon a time each fall in New York and California and draws campers from across the U.S., Asia, Africa and Europe.
Soul Camp cofounders Michelle Goldblum and Alison Leipzig united to bring all the things they loved together to create a completely transformative experience for both themselves and their communities. Going to sleepaway camp together as children and now both working as entrepreneurs in the health and wellness space, they saw that large-scale community experiences that were not only deep and healing but also fun and playful were lacking. They believe in the power of joy to change the world. And it happens—one camper at a time.
24 Life’s Lashaun Dale recently joined Goldblum to learn more about camp, the need for everyday play and the bliss that comes from boldly bringing your dream job to life.
24Life: What is Soul Camp?
Michelle Goldblum (MG): Soul camp is an all-inclusive, one-day or multiday mind-body-spirit immersion. From morning reveille to lights out, campers (aged 21+) participate in a range of activities that include yoga, meditation, workshops on creativity and play, astrology and angel card readings, boot camps, adventure ropes courses, breath work, arts and crafts, and so much more—including talent shows, bonfires, improv experiences, mandala making, and any array of whatever you can imagine or might want to try out, learn or experience in the realm of mind, body and spirit. There is an opportunity to try it and learn it at Soul Camp.
It’s also a place where people find their family, their best friends. They find the people to have the deep, meaningful conversations about purpose and their fears—conversations they might not be able to have in their normal lives, these are the “normal” conversations at Soul Camp in a beautiful and safe setting. Soul Camp is a place that welcomes and accepts you and creates camaraderie. We also feature a speaker series through which campers can escape and listen to inspiring and empowering “soulversations” from wellness experts and thought leaders that carries on after camp is over.
24Life: What is the story of Soul Camp—how did it come about?
MG: It started really with my personal wake-up call. I was working as a full-time executive in branding for big pharma, but one day in my fitness workout and with the support of my fitness community, I realized that I wanted to do different work and tell the stories of those people—my fitness instructors, life coaches and authors—who were making the world a better place. So in 2011, I dramatically quit my career, sold my apartment, went off to India, came back and started a branding agency dedicated to this space.
At the same time, I was always attending a retreat of some sort and sharing it on Facebook. One day, as the universe would have it, the person who owned my sleepaway camp that I attended said, “Why don’t you bring a retreat here to Camp Towanda where you grew up?” My business partner, Ali, and I looked at each other, screamed, and said yes! Let’s create the camp of our dreams. And that is how it started, and it was magical from the get-go.
We were both in branding and had fitness and wellness and spirituality celebrities as our branding clients, and we invited them to come and teach at the first camp. Instead of offering soccer, tennis and basketball, we offered a smorgasbord of all things mind, body and spirit. We reached out to all the companies that had the word “soul” in their name or company mission—such as The Huffington Post and a few others. We quickly helped usher in a movement of adult sleepaway camps and found ourselves across the media, in People magazine, “Good Morning America,” Fortune, Forbes and so on. People, adults want to play!
24Life: Is there a set curriculum?
MG: This is a “choose your own adventure” experience, where campers pick and choose from about 10 different activities each hour, every day. There are day activities and night activities, and we cover anything you can imagine. We showcase any craft you want to create or explore alongside incredible workshops and classes from 30 to 35 teachers, speakers and instructors that are the best in their class. And of course, the real magic is the unscheduled activity between the campers.
24Life: Who does the camp serve? In other words, is this a luxury experience ideally for those with disposable income and time?
MG: We realized from the beginning at the first camp as we walked around and when we saw what happened when camp was over that the transformations that were happening, the community that was being built, and the awakening and wake-ups that were happening are something adults really need. This is not something that is just a luxury. It is a necessity to have a place where you can have a full digital detox, be without your computer and without your Instagram, and just be in a universe of like-minded people—people who want to live their best, most-fulfilling lives and wake up loving their lives, loving their bodies, loving their roles in the world.
24Life: Why a sleepaway camp in nature?
MG: We are just so busy, and we have taken on these roles, these responsibilities of being the mom or the boss or the whatever. We put ourselves in these boxes, and we work, work, work, work, work. And we are filled with obligations, and we forget how easy it is to sprinkle a little joy throughout the day. We find joy attached to our achievements, but we have stopped investing in moments of pure unadulterated joy, and we have prioritized work over play. As kids, recess was our number-one priority, but today as adults, we box ourselves in and have lost the freedom that comes from play.
People come to camp and they tap into the fun and the joy that we don’t have the access to as adults. People used to ask me, “What do you do for fun?” And I never had the answer. It was always awkward because I would say, “Oh, I work out” or “I listen to music.” I always thought, “Is that a valid answer? What do I do for fun?” I couldn’t remember what fun was, and so many people are the same. At camp in nature, we tap back into the pure joy of play and true fun—like being in a tug-of-war and the friendly competition that comes from that game or getting onstage and sharing a song or fun skits and having everyone stand up and applaud you. The setting helps and being under the stars does something to wake up your soul and suspend your everyday rules and way of being in the world.
24Life: What happens after camp ends? Do people stay in touch, change careers, find love?
MG: On a personal level, I can say all of the above. I used to live in a cubicle! I left my corporate job for my dream job, and since launching Soul Camp, my life is completely changed—and I’m getting married at the end of the summer. There are so many stories of life-changing transformation—some of them overnight and dramatic and some more subtle but completely legitimate.
Campers become friends, and one amazing thing is the collaborations that happen after camp. At camp, there is a space of creation and everyone works together to build things. This is contagious, and when the campers and even the instructors leave, they continue to have this new, expanded view of collaboration and start new ventures together. It is truly inspiring. Soul Camp opens your mind up to what can happen when we come together in community and we truly believe that there is more than enough to go around for everyone and let’s all help each other out because we are all in this together. It’s astounding; everyone thrives.
24Life: What’s the dream?
MG: Soul Camp believes that at camp, we reawaken to the power we all had as kids that allowed us to dream bigger, jump higher, sing louder, laugh more. We let go of our adult labels, roles and fears, and we rediscover who we really are. And we are seen, embraced and loved for being just that. And it is from this place that we can then find purpose, create change and truly impact the world. We want everyone to make time for joy and play in their lives. Even if you can’t get to camp, you can still make time to enjoy your life and play. Get down on the floor with the kids, jump in the puddle, get out crayons and color. Give yourself an hour to break out of that box and ignore the homework, ignore the mess in the house, put the to-do list down. Play, create, and feel free to create just because and not for any goal but to create and enjoy.
24Life: We need more of that in our lives.
MG: Yes, we need more of that in the whole world.
To learn more about Soul Camp and add more soul (and play) in your life, visit https://soul.camp/. As a gift to 24Life readers who wish to attend camp, enter the code “24hourfitness” for 20 percent off any camp of your choice!
Photo credit: Zak Man Photography