Mark Cuban, Lady Gaga, Michelle Obama and Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Summer camp is a place to have fun, make memories and even work toward a successful career. Millions of adults, former campers and camp instructors themselves, credit these experiences for shaping who they are today. That’s why so many insist on their children having similar adventures. Here are just a few of the successful and famous people we know who got their start at summer camp. And went on to conquer the world.

Discovering talent and passion

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, revered Supreme Court Justice, attended camp in New York. This is where she once said she discovered herself and her relationship to the world. “At camp girls could do anything.”

Lady Gaga, or Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, worked as a camp instructor at YMCA Camp Hi-Rock Massachusetts. She learned sailing, arts & crafts and supported other campers who were far away from home. But this future Grammy winner also sang from her bunk bed every night.

Denzel Washington discovered his love for acting years before he became famous – at Camp Sloane YMCA in Lakeville, Connecticut.

Successful fashion designer Tory Burch learned about female fashion and got her start at Camp Somerset in Oakland, Maine.

Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman is one of many successful theatre professionals who attended a performing arts training program. That’s what Camp Stagedoor Manor in New York calls its summer experience for future actors, dancers and artists.

Beloved Canadian radio host Andy Barrie credits summer camp for beginning his broadcast career. As a kid each summer, he read announcements over the intercom every morning. “Summer camp basically changed my life,” he said.

Famous sportswriter Peter Gammons also had a similar experience. He attended a boys’ camp in Maine, Camp Timanous, whose program of land and water activities is where he also discovered his love of sports.

Leadership skills start at camp

At Camp Anita Bliss Coler in New York, teenage girls from undervalued neighborhoods learn creativity and leadership. One of their most famous instructors was former First Lady Michelle Obama.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent summers as a child attending Island Lake Camp, in Pennsylvania. That’s where he played sports but also immersed himself in video technology and science activities.

Basketball coach Larry Brown started his path toward success as a camp counselor at Camp Keeyumah in Pennsylvania.

According to NBC-TV sportscaster Bruce Beck, summer camp is a place where he learned about leadership and friendship. He also learned good sportsmanship.

Crossroads for Kids, a summer camp program outside Boston, boasts Ben Affleck (writer, actor and director) among its famous alumni. Crossroads offers sports, creative arts and leadership programs to empower young people. As a result, these campers go off to positively impact the world.

Before Mark Cuban became a successful businessman, famous television star and championship-winning Dallas Mavericks owner – he attended Emma Kaufmann Camp in West Virginia. He credits his experiences there with learning the importance of adapting and staying flexible.

A strong influence

Leonard Cohen, a legendary singer/songwriter and poet, attended and worked at several camps while growing up in Canada. According to his 1996 biography, it was at one of these camps that Cohen’s closest friend introduced him to folk/protest songs. These would later influence his award-winning work.

Drew Brees

Drew Brees, quarterback of the New Orleans Saints, attended Camp Champions in Texas. He played sports, participated in activities and learned the value of hard work each summer. For instance, he would wake up before anyone else to practice basketball skills. This helped him win both on and off the court.

Penny Marshall, an actor from the classic television show Laverne & Shirley who went on to direct such films as Big and League of Their Own, attended camps throughout her childhood. In Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York and the Catskills – these experiences gave her confidence and independence. All of which shaped who she would become later in life.

Moviemaking brothers, Joel and Ethan Coen, attended Herzl Camp in Wisconsin. Years earlier, Bob Dylan attended this same camp. The Coen brothers described it as a joyful experience with staff and campers from all over the world. Most certainly they learned about themselves and their community.

Motivational speaker Reggie Dabbs had this to say about working at summer camps: “…(it) was an experience that shaped my work ethic.” He credits summer camp with inspiring him to rise above less than desirable circumstances. He wanted to become someone his son could look up to. As a result, now he travels around the country speaking with students to inspire them the same way. It started with camp.

Summer camp helps kids feel a sense of belonging

Ben Bernanke is known the world over as Chairman of the Board of Governors of the U.S. Federal Reserve System. But as a kid, he felt slightly isolated. Until he signed up for summer camp in Pennsylvania. “It was a good experience for me,” he said. “I enjoyed the sports, social events, and participating in theater production.

Famous political activist Noam Chomsky also attended that same camp in Pennsylvania.

Jason Brown attended Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute in Wisconsin before becoming a successful U.S. Olympic figure skater. He loved the camp experience of making lifelong friends and feeling a strong sense of community with other campers.  

Theo Epstein, who turned around the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs, attended camp as a child in New England. He learned to challenge himself and made lifelong friends.

Many successful business people, famous performers and entrepreneurs got their start in summer camp. Give it a try! Let the camp experience help you discover your talents, develop leadership skills, feel a sense of belonging and influence a successful future. 


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