When Justin Lavner spoke with the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Diane Mastrull last summer, the then-29-year-old entrepreneur expressed a keen desire for his summer camp programs to flourish.
To say the Bala Cynwyd resident, now 30, branched out his small business a year later would be an understatement; the entrepreneur not only added multiple programming and locations to Lavner Camps and Programs summer 2012, but also forged his business’s core philosophy.
“The kids aren’t just coming to camp and having fun,” Lavner said in a phone interview. “They’re coming in and improving themselves. It’s about being able to provide that opportunity and reach out to kids with different interests.”
Lavner, who played varsity tennis for his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, and graduated from Villanova University’s law school in 2009, was inspired to expand his tennis academy and camp beyond atheletics after his first summer camp with about 300 youth tennis players.
“A nine-year-old girl at the 2009 camp was talking about going to culinary camp next summer, and this light bulb went off, so I said to her, ‘You’ll be coming to my culinary camp next year,’” Lavner said. “At that point, I realized that in order to reach more kids, I had to expand…not everyone is interested in playing tennis.”
Lavner hired a sous chef from Le Bec-Fin and his younger brother Michael, to oversee the culinary camp in summer 2010.
For 2011, Lavner added a third program to Lavner Camps, robotics, which along with tennis and culinary, attracted more than 1,000 campers that summer.
Momentum has increased for Lavner with 2012’s new offerings and locations.
In addition to hosting tennis, culinary and robotics and technology at The Cynwyd Club, the home base, Lavner Camps will have branches and programming at the following locations:
- The Bryn Mawr location at Barrack Academy will offer new programs in acting and theater, as well as robotics.
- Malvern’s Valley Forge Educational Services will feature a new filmmaking camp, in addition to offering culinary, robotics and a new camp in video game programming and design.
- The Germantown Academy in Ft. Washington has culinary arts and video game programming and design camps.
- The final two of the five new Lavner Camp branches are located in Jenkintown. The Abington Club will host a new golf camp in mid-July, while the Abington Friends School will offer culinary arts, robotics, and video game programming and design.
“What’s nice about Bala Cynwyd is that it’s the closest point on the Main Line to Philadelphia and South Jersey,” Lavner said. “We really expanded to hit all areas of the Main Line to make it possible for families to travel reasonable distances for day camp.”
Lavner anticipates that summer 2013 will see Lavner Camps opening out-of-state locations. For now, the Main Line entrepreneur looks forward to watching campers engage in the new programs, especially the video game design and a new salon camp, both of which are offered at the Cynwyd Club.
The businessman spoke at a Temple University symposium last year on video game addiction, a hobby he said is one of the biggest complaints of the parents whose children attend Lavner’s tennis academy.
“They told me their kids were playing too many video games for long periods of time, some saying it progressed to almost eight hours a day,” Lavner recalled.
Lavner wanted to address video games beyond consequences like body weight battles and plummeting grades.
He initiated the program to give video gamers an opportunity to channel their passion into productivity with this new year-round program, thus allowing them to learn how to create games of their own.
“Compare it to the tobacco industry – at the end of the day, there are big dollar signs in selling cigarettes,” Lavner said. “It’s not causing cancer, but video games still have a negative effect.”
“With this program, kids can be productive, learn how to create their own games and be proud of themselves and feel good about themselves for it,” he added.
The same reasoning governs the inception of the new salon camp, which is a collaborative effort between Lavner Camps and the Hairs To You salon in Bala Cynwyd.
“I remember seeing a story on CNN about kids posting on YouTube, asking if they were pretty or not,” Lavner said. “Many people posted awful, awful things.”
Lavner said the salon camp is “our little way of making a difference,” by helping build upon the self-esteems of the girls and boys interested in hair, skincare and grooming for personal or vocational purposes.
No matter the camp program, Lavner feels successful as long as he’s making a difference.
He’s reminded of this by a testimonial a mother wrote after her shy son attended Lavner’s robotics camp.
“He started out quiet, but toward the end of summer, he was the star of the camp,” Lavner recalled. “He built great robots, spoke and gave demonstrations, and his mom wrote that he no longer shies on the sports field or other social settings.”
“Exposing kids to positive things, making that kind of difference in their lives…for me, that’s what this is all about,” he added.
Click here for more information about Lavner Camps summer 2012.