Headed by longtime Solana Beach teacher Mike Bentz, Keystone South Summer Camp is set to offer two sessions at Solana Pacific School in Carmel Valley.
“We are truly a multidimensional camp experience, so we are not focused on one area or activity,” said Bentz, founder and director of Keystone South Summer Camp. “There are tremendously great programs around the area that do that, but the scope of activities and the depth of activities that we offer are unlike anything that’s around.”
The first session at Keystone South Summer Camp will run June 27 through July 8, with a second session July 11-29.
The camp will offer a junior camp program for children 4 years old to children entering kindergarten. There will also be a day camp program for students entering first- through seventh-grade, as well as a counselor-in-training program for students entering eighth and ninth grades.
“We truly have something for every child,” Bentz said.
Having worked with children since he was a 14-year-old counselor-in-training, Bentz is no stranger to summer camps.
“I was a very reluctant 14-year-old,” Bentz recalled. “I was pretty innocent and young at 14, and I got into a camp program that really pushed me to get up in front of people and lead a camp song, to try new things, and to fail in front of other kids.”
Bentz fondly remembered his first summer camp experience, which led him to become a staff member the following year.
At 15 years old, the new staffer managed a gold panning station, working with young campers. Although Bentz initially compared his first job to babysitting, his first connection with a 6-year-old camper made him think differently. In fact, the rewarding experience inspired him to become a teacher.
“It was my first real understanding of what it meant to connect with people, and from that moment on, I wanted to be a teacher,” he recalled.
Bentz went on to earn his teaching credential, and eventually, his master’s degree in literacy from the University of San Diego. He was hired as a teacher at Skyline where he’s worked for 18 years, first as a fourth-grade and fifth-grade teacher, and now as a sixth-grade teacher.
“Everything since summer camp has shaped my future,” Bentz said. “All of the right doors have been opened and the dots have been connected.”
With a strong passion for summer camp, Bentz also continued to work with children over the summer.
Over the last 18 years, Bentz has served as camp director of Camp Keystone. With a staff or about 125, the Agoura-based camp serves about 1,000 families every summer. The camp started out with just 90 children per day and has grown to about 700 children per day.
“This program is close to my heart,” said Bentz, a North Park resident. “But I really wanted to start my own business and I wanted it to be with kids that I’m connected to and a community that I’m connected to, and thus, Keystone South was born.”
In collaboration with Larry Klein, founder of Camp Keystone, Bentz is launching Keystone South Summer Camp this summer — about two years after he first came up with the concept.
With approval from the Solana Beach School District, the camp will be based at Solana Pacific School in Carmel Valley.
“They were excited to bring us on board,” Bentz said. “They very much saw that our community lacked a multidimensional camp experience for kids to hone in on things that they love but also try new experiences.”
From fine arts and performing arts, to all types of sports, Keystone South Summer Camp will offer a variety of activities for campers.
Campers will be able to choose from more than 30 activities, including arts and crafts, archery, baseball, basketball, dodgeball, drama, football, soccer, volleyball and yoga, among many other activities. There will also be specialized programming, including a 25-foot climbing wall.
Keystone South Summer Camp has also partnered with Carmel Valley Recreational Center so that campers will be able to cool off in the pool and enjoy the center’s waterslides every day.
“Every day is really different at Keystone,” Bentz said. “This is a program where kids have their choke of activities.”
The camp will also offer a variety of special events. Every week will have a new theme, such as a week dedicated to different decades. Campers will celebrate a different holiday every Wednesday and dress up on Thursdays and Fridays.
“It gets kids a little bit out of their comfort zone and helps them show their camp spirit,” Bentz said.
Registration for Keystone South Summer Camp opened in March. About 250 community members celebrated the opening of the camp during a grand opening ceremony April 17.
“The visibility is wonderful,” Bentz said about the camp’s location. “We’ve been embraced by the community over there.”
Bentz expects 50 to 100 campers per day. He is currently hiring counselors from local high schools and colleges. Two other teachers from Solana Beach and Poway Unified School District also serve as assistant camp directors.
“We are in the business of building a camp community,” Bentz said. “Our uniqueness relies on the diversity of our program. We also have a highly trained staff. At the forefront of everything is making deep personal connections with kids, and with a small program like this, it’s really incredible what you can do.”
Sign up before May 20 for the early bird special, which include a waived registration fee, free T-shirt and sport pack.
For Solana Beach Sun readers, use the online code SBSUN to unlock the early bird package, valued at more than $30 per camper. Although the promotion ends May 20, Keystone South Summer Camp is extending it for another week for local Solana Beach Sun families.
For more information or to register for Keystone South Summer Camp, call 858-207-6161 or visit campkeystonesouth.com.