How I Spent My Summer: At Camp with My New Friends N.Y.S.E. and Dow, Buying Phillips Oil on Margin

updated 08/18/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/18/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Ah, the joys of summer camp. Canoe trips on the lake. Songs and roasted marshmallows round the campfire. Hiking, crafts...

Wait a minute. Ten-year-old Joey Kozlowsky doesn't seem to be interested in crafts or canoeing on his first day of camp here in Palm Beach. "I have this $150,000 trust fund and also some Dome Oil," Joey is saying. "And what I'm wondering is whether you can buy Delta Airlines or something with that." Nor is Janet Cafaro worrying about the price of ice cream at the camp store. "I want to own Disney World, and that's why I'm here," she says. "I already have 60 shares, and I want to find out how much more it takes. I like Disney World."

Welcome to "The Money Management Camp for Kids," a five-day course on the fine points of survival—not in nature's wilds but in the thorny thickets of Wall Street. Forget those pup tents; we'll be bunking at the Breakers, grande dame of Florida's lavish resort hotels, and our counselors will be financial consultants from the firm of Shearson/Lehman Brothers. The modest $250 camper fee covers everything, except breakfast, dinner and rooms (roughly an extra $105 per day).

Our fellow campers consist of 16 boys and 11 girls, ages 10 to 15, who, happily, are as diverse as a good mutual fund. Twelve-year-old Erik Herzfeld's father has his own investment firm in Miami and has written books like High Return, Low Risk Investment. Fellow Floridian Shawn Gray, 14, describes himself as "awesome in tennis and golf" and wants to "learn how to make a nice easy life for myself—you know, so I won't have to work or anything." And Disney World devotee Cafaro, the daughter of an Ohio shopping-mall developer, tells us quickly—very quickly—that she attends a school for the gifted, has an I.Q. of 160, has flown the Concorde to Paris, witnessed Liberty Weekend from the middle of New York Harbor, visited Las Vegas, intends to go to the Madeira School and Harvard. Her career goal is to become the next Maria Shriver. Her views on finance? "Money," declares Janet, 10, "is power."

Money is also fun, at least according to Shearson/Lehman's Lois O'Connor, 46, and Paul Vattiat, 38. The crisply attired duo conducts each morning's 90-minute class, often sounding like a monetary vaudeville act ("There's another nifty theory about bulls and bears, Mrs. O'Connor." "And what's that, Mr. Vattiat?")

On Day 1 the two peppy counselors lead their charges through the workings of the stock market. When attention spans threaten to evaporate in a sea of risk and reward, fear and greed, common and preferred, a contest is announced. Campers are asked to guess the closing Dow Jones average for this coming Thursday. Not everyone knows just what the Dow Jones is, but the prize stirs interest: $100 in American Express travelers cheques. "All right, that's more like it!" exclaims Robert Crawford, 12, who arrived at camp determined to buy Reebok stock and dressed all week like a running commercial.

The daily ballroom dancing class—taught because incipient power brokers these days don't know the cha-cha and might conceivably need to—goes less smoothly. Betty and George Montgomery, who have been teaching at the Breakers for 38 years, try to inspire the future wizards of Wall Street with the glories of the fox-trot, rumba and, yes, even the samba. "If they're going into finance, they are going to have to know this type of dancing," says Betty. The whole secret, she tells the girls, is where they put their hands ("If your arm is like a piece of spaghetti, then he's going to step on you, so hold it firm"). The same is true for the boys, apparently, who are reminded a dozen times to keep their hands to themselves. No problem. By the second day, mutinous campers are hiding out in the video-game room or riding up and down the self-service elevators.

By midweek, the instructors take the class on a journey through the Wall Street Journal. Ten-year-old Jerron Kelley, who wants to be a doctor someday, approves heartily, since the main thing he wanted to learn at camp was how to read the financial pages ("I can never figure that part out"). To help Kelley and his colleagues make sense of AMEX, NASDAQ, hedges, highs, futures, spreads and pork bellies, the O'Connor-Vattiat team comes up with a hectic game (add the volume of the N.Y. Stock Exchange to the high of the day for American Can preferred, minus the volume of the exchange's most active stock, and so on). Campers scramble through the paper looking for answers. The winner: the team led by Shawn Gray, who was searching for ways to avoid working and just may be on his way.

As a lesson in what big money can buy, the Breakers lays on an elegant lunch in its Florentine dining room featuring a choice between breast of chicken française and veal piccata with hearts of palm salad. "It was all gross," reported 12-year-old Brandi Haines later. "What this place really needs is some good fast food."

Day 4 features a class in personal financial planning conducted by American Express district manager Sonny Wooten, 34. A few participants, by now comfortable with megabuck thinking and stock market maneuvering, have to stifle yawns. Finally, Day 5 arrives, the last campers will spend together.

There is, of course, no candlelight ceremony down by the lake, no misty-eyed farewells at the main lodge; instead, a dazzling motorcade of limousines transports the group to the local Shearson/Lehman office, where the neo-moguls are to invest $100 (part of their $250 fee) in a stock portfolio of their own. "Disney's not moving at all," announces Janet Cafaro, who just five days ago hoped to own the company. "I've decided to invest in NBC; I want to experiment a little." "I'm buying Phillips oil," says Jerron Kelley, spiffy in a three-piece pinstripe. "I've always liked oil companies."

The final day's big moment comes when the winner of the Dow Jones contest is announced. It is Robert Crawford, who had guessed 1791.62 (actual close: 1791.22). Was he going to invest the $100 in more stock? "No way," says Robert. "The other $100 was my parents' money. This is mine, and I'm not going to risk it."

After a snack of orange juice and doughnuts in the brokerage conference room, the group heads back to the hotel. Joey Kozlowsky, who had been first to arrive at camp, is the last to board the limo motorcade. Did he still want to buy Delta, still want to move in the corridors of high finance and power? "What I want," says Joey, "is to be a professional baseball player." As of now, Joey's grandfather wants to send him to the camp every year until he turns 16.

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