Basalt’s Deb Morrison found her calling at Camp Chip-a-Tooth |

Basalt’s Deb Morrison found her calling at Camp Chip-a-Tooth

Deb Morrison, center, with the elaborate headdress, helps lead a parade in Basalt on Thursday celebrating the 20th anniversary of her Camp Chip-a-Tooth.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

For the past 20 years, Deb Morrison has had both the blessing and the curse of knowing hundreds of midvalley children like they were her own family.

Morrison is the owner and operator of Camp Chip-a-Tooth, an after-school facility during the school year and summer camp in Basalt for kids ages 5 to 12. She stays in touch with many of the children even after they reach their teens and move on. Countless “campers” over the years have returned during high school and college to work for her.

“I always say I’m recycling kids,” she said.

Facebook has made it easier to stay in touch. She regularly gets friend requests from kids she hasn’t seen for years.

In person and online, Morrison celebrates the sports, academic and career successes of hundreds of children as they advance through middle and high schools, go to college or directly into the workforce. That’s the blessing.

But her plight also includes seeing a few of “her” kids struggle in school and life. There have been untimely deaths, both expected and unexpected.

“I have lived a lot of kids’ lives with them. That’s the good, the bad, the ugly,” Morrison said. “I spend as much time with them as their parents do.”

Chip-a-Tooth records show that more than 1,000 children have cycled through the camp since 1996. Morrison said the number is higher because records from the first years aren’t complete.

That’s a lot of kid time for a woman who didn’t even like baby-sitting in her youth. Morrison worked in legal offices in both Los Angeles and Aspen, starting right after high school. But with two young children of her own, it didn’t make sense to keep commuting to Aspen while seeking day care for her kids in the midvalley.

Morrison went to work for Sunshine Mountain Preschool in the mid-1990s. When it closed after 23 years, she made a leap of faith and opened her own facility with Jennifer Soucie, affectionately known as Miss Honey. They later went their separate ways, with Soucie owning and operating a Carbondale camp.

Morrison said the need for after-school and summer care was clear in 1996. There were only a couple of other camps, and after-school care was desperately thin for midvalley families who often had both parents working in Aspen.

Camp Chip-a-Tooth has been located for most of its 20 years on the middle and elementary school campus in Basalt. Many a kid has fond memories of the four-room modular with the sandbox that was headquarters from 1996 through 2005.

The old red-brick building on the school campus will be home for the foreseeable future. It was saved when voters approved a property tax increase to pay for capital improvement bonds for the Roaring Fork School District in November. The old red-brick building will house Chip-a-Tooth and Growing Years, a homegrown child care facility. The actual anniversary is in December.

So what’s worked at Chip-a-Tooth for all these years? Any parent or child who has experienced the camp will say Morrison’s outgoing personality and genuine interest in the kids are a big part of it. She’s hands-on with kids of all ages; she doesn’t lock herself in an administrator’s office.

She credits good teams over the years and constant good energy. Children always are kept busy on field trips and encouraged at the camp to pursue activities they’re interested in. She’s big on sparking imagination.

“Let the kids be kids,” she said.

And through the 20 years, the woman who once couldn’t stomach the thought of baby-sitting has found hanging out with kids more rewarding than the corporate gig.

“I prefer working with little people because they’re so honest and true,” she said. “There’s no guessing. You know where you stand.”

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