As a father of 3, technology executive and faculty at the Schulich School of Business in Toronto, Mark Silver already wears many hats. So it may seem surprising that he decided to don another by co-founding a free camp program for kids. For Mark, though, his decision hinged more on necessity than choice.
When the Coronavirus pandemic took hold in the spring of 2020, Mark anticipated that the activities his kids looked forward to this summer would be cancelled. That's when Mark and his sister-in-law, Backyard Camp co-founder, Erin Elfassy, hatched a plan for parents to re-create a camp-like experience at home. "Between Erin's background working in the school system and my experience in digital media, we put a back-of-the-napkin plan in place," says Mark, who describes camp as "in his DNA," having spent his summers as a youth at Camp Northland in Haliburton, Ontario.
The pair's plan to keep kids busy and relieve parent stress during the summer of 2020 became a full-time, volunteer-based operation, centred around Backyard Camp's free daily email newsletter that provides parents and caregivers with activities to engage in with their children at home. Mark's sister, Lisa Silver, has also played a critical role by promoting activities on the organization's Facebook page. Mark's life-long friend, Perry Schwartz, also turned the initiative into a media darling.
In the background, Mark's company Ready Set Go and business partner Dayton Pereira provided the no-code technology that powers the Backyard Camp website, email newsletters and subscriber management. When parents sign up for the daily newsletter, they share their children's' preferred activities, which are matched with daily programs throughout the summer.
Mark now spends much of his time collaborating with volunteers Emily Ross and Dave Carpenter, members of his team while working on the London Olympics broadcast in 2012 with CTV, to create content and partner promotions for the 1,000s of families who count on the daily program. Those partners include Bell Media's CP24, who have carved out a weekly Backyard Camp segment on their Monday breakfast broadcast. Indigo Books & Music, Super Toys, Canadian Tire and esports team owner OverActive Media provide promotional support for Backyard Camp as well. "What we're most proud of, though, is our support of Kids Help Phone," Mark says. "We raised funds through a partnership with the cash-back fundraising platform FlipGive and the esports league management platform Mission Control."
Mark also acts as the general manager of the initiative, organizing the dozen or so volunteers who support Backyard Camp. So far so good, says Mark. "We have an incredible team of volunteers with very high standards. Our whole model is remote and digital, so tools like Zoom and Slack also come in handy to keep us all organized and communicating. We ran 9 weeks of camp in 2020, and things were humming."
Back in May 2020, Mark received positive feedback from many parents on the program's initial concept, as well as from the media and influencers that include acclaimed Canadian parenting expert Alyson Schafer. "At the end of the day, we're filling a programming gap for parents with suggestions to help keep their kids busy and happy". For Mark, that's the reward. "I didn't get this involved for recognition," he says. "Backyard Camp is all about doing what's necessary at an unprecedented time in our lives where people need to step up to support one another."