Curiosity Keeps Chris Jaques Afloat at Hollow Rock

By Al Daniel

Visits from fauna and fire trucks. Relay races and general energy expenditure on the grass. Inflatable obstacle courses and water slides.

Yes, the Montessori Community School dishes up those experiences during the school year. But by the time the Museum of Life and Science has dispersed upon completing its camp, Durham-area youths must get their fun-and-learning fix elsewhere while the Pope Road campus takes a much-needed breather.

For the past five summers, Chris Jaques and company have offered one option via Camp Hollow Rock. The division of the Hollow Rock Racquet and Swim Club just wrapped up its annual 10-week offering, and has already posted its slate and registration calls for Year Six, beginning June 15, 2020.

Jaques, who attended MCS for five years (1996-2001) in Primary and Lower Elementary, helped to inaugurate Camp Hollow Rock in 2015. He brought a dense background in sports management and a penchant for the outdoors, both of which his early education elevated.

“MCS always allowed us to pursue our true interests,” he said. “I remember not being constrained into certain subject matter that didn’t interest me as much. They really wanted us to enjoy the learning experience.”

That flexibility gave Jaques a jumpstart on the activities and assets that have catalyzed his career. He built his confidence and friendships by assuming leadership roles in group projects and pick-up soccer games.

“We had a tight group when I was at MCS,” he said, “and those were definitely great relationships.”

Jaques later attended East Chapel Hill High School, where he excelled in the classroom and played three sports. As a senior, he captained the boys’ soccer team and achieved MVP honors, helped the Ultimate Frisbee team to a third-place finish in the state, and led the Highlanders rugby team to a state title.

Back indoors, he was inducted into the National Honors Society and National Classical Society. In between those commitments, he participated in the school’s new Social Justice Academy, which other members of the MCS-ECHHS pipeline have since joined.

From there, Jaques shuffled five miles across town to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, majoring in exercise and sports science. Besides positions on campus, he dabbled in short-term outside-the-lines duties with the Atlantic Coast Conference, the National Football League, and the Carolina RailHawks (now North Carolina FC) professional soccer team.

Upon graduating, he tended the UNC faculty pool (aka The Farm) and prepared for a yearlong internship with the athletic department’s booster club. But no concrete, long-term plans manifested until The Farm’s assistant manager, Seth Pomerantz, tipped him on the upcoming creation of Camp Hollow Rock. The first summer camp would open the next year, and staff positions would keep employees busy year-round.

When he had barely delved into his finite stint at the Rams Club, Jaques applied to the new team in Durham. He accepted an offer in December 2014, and assumed the position of activity and camp director the next month. Last April, he rose to be assistant general manager.

“I took the job out of necessity,” he said, “but couldn’t be more fortunate that it turned into a career I can see for the long haul.”

For his first impression on the job, Jaques drew influence from a marquee event in his final year at MCS.

“MCS definitely fostered ‘exploring the environment,’” he said. “I remember a special third-grade trip we took to Earthshine, which was unbelievable, and those types of experiences really are what made MCS so special.”

“I really think the immersion into the outdoors with close classmates resonated with me,” he added, “and I try and recreate those same emotions for the campers at CHR.”

Consciously, subconsciously, or unconsciously, Jaques has infused a Montessori-like mission statement to Hollow Rock’s signature summer offering. Per its webpage, the camp promises a place where kids will “make friends, play games, learn about the outdoors, play a new sport, and learn how to swim. They try something new or they teach someone something they know.”

To maximize their gains from that checklist, Hollow Rock summer campers must tap into the same trait Jaques gratefully honed as an MCS student.

“Curiosity is something that can be squashed in many settings,” he said. “But that is not what MCS did. They encouraged it.”

In practice, the camp’s fifth season followed through on its pledge with events that, to any MCS community member, evoke the Chili Cook-Off, Mini Olympics, Field Days, in-house field trips, and even (through summertime trick-or-treating) the Halloween Parade.

Of all of the facility’s programs, Jaques allows that Camp Hollow Rock is “without a doubt the biggest from a revenue and exposure standpoint.” The 10th and final week of the season tends to draw the most campers seeking a sizzling summer finale, which Jaques and company deliver accordingly.

Even so, there is nothing small about the rest of the club’s calendar, as Jaques leads the year-round staff in pool maintenance, social events, public outreach, and membership. An indoor eight-lane lap pool is open every month, and Oktoberfest and holiday festivals are not unheard of around the facilities.

The post-camp season will be especially apparent in the fall of 2019. By the end of this autumn, Jaques will have rounded out five full years working at Hollow Rock. That personal milestone coincides with the end of a common pool maintenance cycle. For the first time in his tenure, the water is due for drainage and a host of other routine refreshers.

“This type of project, which happens every five-to-seven years, needs to have full attention and eyes on it,” he said.

All the more so given the slim window of time between one cluster of pool users’ exit and another’s return. The latest Camp Hollow Rock season concluded on Friday, August 18. Starting on September 3, the day after Labor Day, Carolina Aquatic came in to begin its fall and winter practice schedule.

Fielding teams at five levels, the Carolina Aquatic swimming program will conduct as many as 20 practices per week at Hollow Rock, which also hosted a mock meet September 28 to kick off their competition slate.

When reached early in the two-week interlude, Jaques offered, “This week, in past years, really was a ‘breathing week,’ but it hasn’t been this year.”

Still, he takes assurance in another concept that conjures reminders of MCS — interdependence. While he will readily volunteer that “my job has not been done to its full potential” if and when a setback occurs, he lauds his colleagues for buying in, keeping operations smooth, and continuing to build Hollow Rock up.

“The relationships between the year-round staff make this job absolutely incredible and fulfilling,” said Jaques. “It’s been a long process getting the exact right pieces in place, but we are nearly there.”