Just around the bend on East Beechwood Drive a dusty gravel road leads through a quaint wooden fence and beyond a sprawling field to a log and mortar cabin sitting atop a modest hill. This is the home base of Haverty Hollow, a child care and after-school center providing a variety of fun and educational activities and programs reminiscent of summer camp from the bygone days of our youth.
Stepping inside the cabin is like going back in time. Built in the 1940s by the Ashenfelter family, the cabin had served as a family home for three generations before it was sold to Lisa, who also lived in the building for several years. A large living room is outfitted with small circular tables, racks of books, and shelves full of toys. In what was once the dining room are communal tables and stools for cooking classes and science projects, a small kitchen, and a large family room that is now filled with tumbling mats and a rack full of dress-up clothing.
A screened “nature porch” on the back of the building is home to two rabbits, a guinea pig, hamster, frog, and a hermit crab, plus shelves that are lined with animal skulls, bones, and bird nests. Kids have lunch and work on science projects on a spacious back deck overlooking the lush greenery that surrounds the cabin. There is also a swimming pool, playground, carpentry shed, large sports field, archery area, and access to Nancy Creek via winding footpath through dense underbrush.
Lisa Haverty, a descendent of the Atlanta-based Haverty Furniture family, has dreamed of running her own school since she was a child herself. “I used to say ‘when I grow up, I’m going to have my own school. I’m not going to get married and I’m not going to have my own children, I’m just going to have my own school.’” She began volunteering at bible study when she was around ten years old, and went on to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in art and a Master’s in elementary education. She taught elementary-aged kids at Trinity School for a decade before starting her own program at the Old Village School in Vinings.
During this time Lisa also assisted at a camp started by her cousins that went by the name of Frog Hollow, which was located next door to her familial home. When she later bought the property on East Beechwood in 1990 she brought over many of her past students and named the business in homage to her cousin’s camp, though she said some little ones mistakenly refer to it as Happy Hollow, a fitting misnomer.
Flash forward to today, and at 66 years old Lisa is living her dream at Haverty Hollow. Located only a few blocks from her childhood home, the neighborhood is familiar and the setting is serene, much like what she experienced when she was a child. “It’s in the middle of a beautiful, almost nature preserve,” explained Lisa. “I think it’s different because it’s sort of old fashioned fun, and just stuff that I did when I was little. I played in the creek all the time, and kids still like to do that. I liked to look for bugs, kids still like to do that. So we just do a lot of fun things that I did when I was little.” Indeed, the creek that runs along the edge of Lisa’s property is the very same one where she spent many hours wading about in her youth.
The structure of Haverty Hollow is quite different from that of a traditional after school program and summer camp. Lisa firmly believes in the merits of unstructured outdoor play for children’s development. “I was very adamant that this is going to be a choice camp, so that’s one thing that I stress when I talk about the programs here, the kids get to choose from a certain selection what they do,” she continued.
You’ll notice a distinct lack of computer screens in the facility as the activities are almost exclusively non-technological. “We play in the creek, we dig worms, we do a lot of games out in the field, a lot of big games like capture the flag and kickball, we go exploring, and we go on nature walks.” Lisa also allows a broader age range for kids in her classes and sessions which makes it possible for siblings to stay together if they wish and for younger kids to learn from watching older children play and discover things.
The facility operates year-round with popular summer camps when schools are not in session and classes for kids aged pre-k through 10 years old during the school year. When the kids age out of these classes at 10 they are able to apply to become helpers at 11 years old, junior counselors from 12 to 14 years old, and at 15 they can be hired as a counselor. It’s a program that Lisa would have greatly benefited from when she was that age.
When asked what her younger self would think about the program she runs at Haverty Hollow, Lisa laughed and her eyes lit up. “She would say, ‘good job!’ She would love it. Just to be able to be with children all day, and to have animals, and to spend a lot of time outside here. It’s great, I love it.”