YouTube star Meghan Rienks admits to being antsy prior to embarking on her stint as a celebrity counselor at Camp AIM, held Aug. 22–26 at Beber Camp in Mukwonago, WI, and she acted out by “overpacking and buying out Target’s supply of bug spray,” she says.
For YouTubers, direct fan contact — from online messaging to hugs at digital influencer concert-cum-meet-and-greets such as DigiTour — is par for the course. But putting digital influencers together with a single group of fans in a remote wilderness outpost for a week of activities and intimate interaction was uncharted territory.
There was a lot that could’ve gone wrong, from bad weather to bad behavior by spoiled Veruca Salt-esque campers (the price tag for the event was $1095 per camper, after all). Fortunately, neither showed up at Camp AIM.
“Honestly, I was just most nervous that I was going to get stood up by all the campers,” says Rienks (pictured, above left). “But as soon as I met them all, I was just excited for the week ahead.”
Rienks’ Camp AIM (Authentic, Inspiration and Motivation), for girls ages 10–16, was one of three digital influencer-led summer camps mounted by Mills Entertainment in August under the banner Camp17, along with Tyler Oakley and Bethany Mota’s #Bestcampever (Aug. 21–27) in Torrington, CT, and Connor Franta’s Creator Camp (Aug. 22–26), also held at Beber Camp.
Actitivies included everything from baking, making friendship bracelets and traditional campfire singalongs to zip lining and a “silent disco” (where campers danced along to one of three music streams piped into their individual headphones).
For Mills, the biggest worry was the safety of the campers, who came from as far away as Australia, France and Russia.
“Most of the time, parents will drop their kids off at events and come back three hours later and pick them up,” says Mike Mills, president of Mills Entertainment. “Now, we’re responsible for them day and night. We’re responsible that they get their medication, were responsible to address food allergies. Then, of course, you just want to make sure fulfill that you fulfill the promise and everybody has a blast. We promised these kids the best week of their lives, which is a big promise, and I think we did it.”
Mills began producing shows while a student at the University of Albany, SUNY, in the late ’90s. In the 2000s, he began mounting live stage events for reality TV stars such as Buddy Valastro (“The Cake Boss”), Cesar Millan (“The Dog Whisperer”) and Theresa Caputo (“Long Island Medium”). This year, Mills lineup of events included “Mel Brooks: Back in the Saddle Again” Tour, featuring a live conversation with 90-year-old fimmaker Brooks and a screening of his 1974 comedy “Blazing Saddles.”
When YouTubers began to emerge as new media stars, Mills took his reality TV tour skill set and applied it to digital influencer live events such as Oakley’s Slumber Party Tour in 2013 and Lilly Singh’s A Trip to Unicorn Island Tour last year.
While smart phones are ever-present at live digital influencer events, Oakley wanted them to be stowed away at his camp.
“He saw the importance in kids disconnecting so they could make those deeper connections with the kids they were with at camp,” Mills explains. “[The campers] spent most of the day offline, no screens, and then they had pockets of the day during the afternoon and again in the evening where they could get online, mostly so they could connect with their parents and call home. It takes some adjusting, but they loved it in the end because the quality of the time together was so great that they didn’t miss the phones.”
The counselors’ contracts called for them to participate a minimum of four hours a day, but, “in reality, they were on and interacting at least eight hours a day,” according to Mills. “They spent every meal with the kids and participated in way more activities than was required of them.”
Rienks says there was never any doubt that she would be doing more than the contracted four hours.
“Going into this, I made it really clear to everyone that I was going to be there the whole time,” she says. “I just wish I could have been multiple places at once. I got serious FOMO when I couldn’t be at all the activities at the same time. I loved being able to bake with the girls, make flower crowns, but even just sitting and eating lunch on the dock was fun. It didn’t feel like a meet-up, it honestly just felt like a bunch of friends at summer camp.”
Rienks says she would love to do another influencer summer camp next year. In the meantime, Mills is fielding calls about other types of camps.
“I’ve had a couple of traditional artists that you wouldn’t expect come to us and say, ‘Can I do a camp for adults?’” Mills says.
Like a key party camp?
“Well, we probably won’t be doing that,” says Mills. “There’s this company called Camp No Counselor. Literally, it’s a summer camp for adults where you go and party. It’s not porn-y, but it’s a party for the weekend with an open bar, where they take over the campgrounds. Ours would probably be more like a wellness camp and yoga retreat.”