Summer camps are certainly not a new idea. But a summer camp operated by kids and for kids is defying the somewhat traditional parameters of the supervised summer mainstay. Camp Spark, founded in Texas by brothers Blake and Ryan Lieberman, is the result of young people combining a philanthropic goal with a growing business model.
Standing for Strong, Powerful, Athletic, Rockin' Kids, Camp Spark held its first camp for boys in Dallas in 2010. “My brother Ryan and I started Camp Spark because we loved going to summer camps as kids and knew we could positively affect children by creating a camp of our own,” said Blake Lieberman. “In addition to my own entrepreneurial motives to start a business, I love working with children and acting as a role model to younger kids. I know that the other counselors and I have a lot to offer to the kids, and it’s extremely rewarding to positively impact a younger generation.”
The “other counselors” that Lieberman mentions are fellow high school students; the campers themselves range in age from 5 to 13. A significant factor in the success of Camp Spark thus far seems to be the age of the staff in relation to the campers. “We distinguish ourselves as a camp that is run by kids for kids,” said Lieberman. “It allows for a unique relationship between the campers and those running the camp.”
It also allows for a unique experience for young entrepreneurs and philanthropists. In fact, Camp Spark has a section on its website specifically dedicated for aspiring entrepreneurs who are interested in opening their own local chapter.
Zachary Dell joined the leadership team at Camp Spark in 2012 after the initial success of the Dallas location. Dell, who has been involved in efforts to fight childhood obesity through the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, recognized this opportunity to contribute in his own way.
“Doing my part in inspiring our generation to be more physically fit was a huge inspiration to expand Camp Spark,” Dell said. He admits that, as an athlete himself and with his passion to help other young people live healthier lives, the physical and athletic benefits of Camp Spark immediately appealed to him. “I loved the idea of immersing kids in all kinds of sports,” Dell said.
And although Camp Spark does offer exposure to all kinds of sports—including basketball, lacrosse, and whiffle ball—Lieberman adds that it is “as much about sportsmanship as sports.”
Daily activities at Camp Spark include swimming, arts and crafts, dance, and cheerleading; awards are presented on Fridays. Lieberman is proud of the environment that this culture provides each camper. He notes that, in addition to the variation and organization, counselors are “creating genuine relationships with [the] campers” even during down time, and Lieberman, Dell, and the entire Camp Spark staff take this unique opportunity to impact younger kids very seriously. “We have learned that campers are much more likely to follow direction from counselors they can relate to rather than significantly older counselors,” Lieberman said.
Indeed, campers seem delighted with the environment their counselors have created. “I loved that the counselors let us all vote on what we wanted to do,” said Greyson Hillin, an Austin camper. Mark Greenberg, a two-year returning camper who is also from Austin, agreed that, "Camp Spark is an awesome place to go, because it's not only fun, it's a place where you have a bit of freedom.”
Since its inception in Dallas in 2010, Camp Spark has expanded throughout the United States into nine cities and serves approximately 300 kids. In addition to Dallas, Camp Spark locations currently include Austin and Plano; Denver; San Francisco; Las Vegas; Boston; Winston-Salem, N.C.; and Waunakee, Wisc. Each location holds separate sessions for boys and girls and, in some cases, multiple sessions of each are held to accommodate the number of campers attending. The length of each camp is flexible: kids are able to sign up by the day, week, or for multiple week-long sessions, if available.
Camp Spark blends business and philanthropy within a carefree, summer camp environment. Its young founders have tightly intertwined their own positive entrepreneurial experiences into the beneficial impact that the camp has on its young campers’ wellbeing. With this model in place, Lieberman is confident that Camp Spark will continue to make a lasting impact.
“The Camp is full of fun and great physical activities. They keep you moving between one tournament to another, from basketball to football to soccer, and in between there [are] some small games, keep[ing] you active all the time without getting close to being exhausted,” said Ian Chamoun, another Austin camper. “There’s water all over the place so you don't get hit by the hot weather and at all times, we are reminded to keep hydrated. The most fun part of all is swim time, and the fun games by the beach…it's a beautiful place with so much of open fields, areas that allows for multiple activities to happen at the same time without even feeling it is crowded. It's the most amazing camp with a lot of fun stuff to do, I can't wait for this summer to come.”