This story was originally published in the September 23, 1988, issue of the Boston Phoenix.
Ah, to be young in the summer. The long, sultry days ... the freedom from homework ... the option of a week at the Four Seasons Hotel attending money-management camp.
Let's re-phrase this.
Ah, to be young in the Reagan era. The long, sultry bankbook ... the freedom to earn and invest ... and yes, now it fits: money camp.
What fun! What a rollicking good time! After all, what self-respecting young representative of the late 1980s would want to go off and, say, toast marshmallows when he or she could spend five days holed up in a conference room discussing personal-investment strategies? Why learn to swim or ride horseback when you could take classes like, "How Now, Mr. Dow" (aka "How To Read and Understand the Financial Pages") or "Fun with Funds" (aka, "The ABC's of Creating a Mutual Fund")? Let the masses run around and short-sheet one another's bed. This was serious stuff. This was "Dollars & Sense," a financial camp for boys and girls ages 10 to 15, held last month at the Four Seasons Hotel. The 10 mini-moguls who paid $600 apiece for the privilege (not including accommodations) had better things to think about than, shudder, playing games.
* * *
Money camp is the brainchild of one Barbara Smart, a Florida-based PR executive who started the program three years ago primarily as a way to increase business at several resort hotels she represents. It is run, however, by Paul Vattiat and Lois O'Connor, two financial consultants from Shearson-Lehman in West Palm Beach, Florida, who know how to bring out the capitalist in a kid.
Vattiat is a portly man with a sing-song voice and a maniacal kind of enthusiasm. (Imagine Mr. Rogers if he turned into a car salesman and took amphetamines.) He clearly enjoys his work. At an orientation meeting held the night before camp began, he stood at the podium and beamed out at the group: 10 T-shirted tycoons-to-be shuffling in their seats. He related an anecdote about the Dollars & Sense logo, a basset-hound puppy that's pictured in the camp literature wearing reading glasses, carrying the financial pages, and inspecting ticker tape. "When we first started 'Dollars & Sense,'" he said, "a few newspaper articles about us appeared, calling the kids 'puppies,' a play on the word 'yuppie.'" He gave the campers a sober look. "That bothered us at first," he said carefully, "but we've come to realize a few things." Like, for example, the fact that "money really does mean success in this culture." And that "the capitalist system really is a great system, because anyone can take advantage of it and succeed." And that "the more [financial] tools and knowledge you have, the better off you'll be."
The kids, who seemed rather awkward and nervous at first, looked visibly relieved. Ah, they seemed to be thinking, permission to be puppies. To be puppies and proud of it.
A little later, Vattiat asked each camper to say what he or she hoped to learn at money camp. They rattled off their answers: some wanted to know about mutual funds, others about investing in the market. The last response came from Cal Fishkin, a small, blond wisp of a boy from Redding, Connecticut, 11 years old.