The only way Ira Green avoided ridicule as an overweight teen was because of his athletic prowess. But when the structure of high school and college athletics disappeared, his adult weight ballooned to over 400 pounds. “When I had to have surgery to save my life,” said Ira, “I decided to teach kids at weight loss camps.”
After losing over 200 pounds and directing 10 weight loss camps, Ira is gearing up for this summer’s all-girl weight loss camp on the campus of William and Mary. Camp Friends 4ever is based on Ira’s seven weight loss principles: structure, accountability, honesty, rewards, balance, game planning, and selfless selfishness.
While the camp does have a proven and successful curriculum, you won’t see Ira or his staff barking out orders. “Twenty years ago, these kinds of camps were more rugged,” said Ira. “We let the campers choose their activities and in turn, they want to work harder, and my staff doesn’t waste energy on disinterested kids.” His style of discipline is basic: when a camper misbehaves, Ira brings them to his office, sits them down and asks, “Have I ever disrespected you?”.
“They start bawling,” said Ira.
The pain that overweight children go through often creates rifts in entire families. “It used to be 85 percent of overweight kids had overweight parents. Now (normal weight) parents have overweight kids and don’t know why,” said Ira. He develops relationships with parents—keeping in touch via social media and email throughout the year—and stresses that no one is to blame for a child’s overweight condition.
His career as a camp director has offered him a first hand look at the tribulations overweight children go through in modern society. He’s seen 200 pound children pick on 350 pound children. He hears about how obese kids get taken advantage of at school. His approach toward the fragile campers is centered around nurturing, unconditional love and respect. The campers play sports, take cooking classes, go to amusement parks—a great way to burn calories as kids walk 4-5 miles around the park—and the beauty of it is, they never realize how much they’re exercising. Along with their fitness routines, campers abide by a strict daily 1800 calorie diet.
The cornerstone of Camp Friends 4ever is the mantra, “Be selfish for yourself in a positive way.” This philosophy breeds confidence and teaches children that only they control and manage their health. Social media is also a helpful tool after camp is over. “Campers post pictures online and that motivates their camp peers to keep the weight off. Social media holds them accountable,” said Ira.
Ira’s partner in crime and soul mate, Stacey Halprin—formerly 600 pounds and frequent Oprah guest—is an integral part of the camp’s success. They fell in love over the strength and determination it took them both to lose a combined 500 pounds. Stacey teaches drama, make-up, and hygiene to the campers. “She’s been an inspiration and an asset to the camp,” said Ira.
The average body fat lost per camper—10 to 11 percent—speaks to the camp’s success, and when campers return year after year to participate or act as counselors, Ira Green knows Camp Friends 4ever is true to its name. “I’m a hands-on camp director and a kid at heart,” said Ira. “They know how much I care about them.”